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Public Statements

Automatic Pay Raises

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

AUTOMATIC PAY RAISES -- (Senate - March 17, 2009)

Mr. VITTER. Madam President, I rise again to discuss the issue of automatic pay raises for Members of Congress. As I said in our debate on the omnibus spending bill last week, I think this system of automatic pay raises--pay raises for Members of Congress on autopilot, without the need for any legislation, any debate, any vote--is truly wrong and truly offensive. I believe it is in the best of times, but I believe it is triply wrong and offensive right now as Americans all over our country, who have to work hard in the real world, face dire economic challenges and conditions.

I rise again to urge us to act, to do the right thing, to rebuild confidence among the American people by changing this system and no longer having automatic pay raises for Members of Congress. I proposed doing this as an amendment on the Omnibus appropriations bill. After some difficulty in getting my amendment even recognized and debated and voted on, I finally was able to do that and we had a meaningful debate. We had a vote. It was a close vote. Unfortunately, from my perspective, I fell a little bit short in terms of agreeing to the amendment. It was defeated 52 to 45. But in that process we did have an important debate and several other Members came forward and expressed support for the concept--most notably the majority leader, Senator Reid. In fact, the very day after I finally secured a debate and a vote on my amendment, the day after that Senator Reid introduced his own freestanding bill to get rid of automatic pay raises, at least after the next one scheduled, and to do away with that process.

Obviously, I completely agree with that concept. That is the whole impetus for my work, along with Senator Feingold of Wisconsin and my other coauthors, Senator Ensign and Senator Grassley.

During the debate on this issue, Senator Reid went further. He spoke on the floor in support of this effort. He said several things:

I agree with Senator Vitter that cost-of-living adjustments for Members of Congress should not be automatic. That is why I introduced a freestanding bill last week that would do just that.

In addition, in the same time on the floor, Senator Reid said:

If there are people who don't want to agree to this tonight, assuming the Senator from Louisiana is that person, I will bring it up some other time. I am committed to doing this.


I will bring it up some other time. I am committed to doing this.

I objected to bringing that freestanding bill up then because it clearly would have drained votes in support of my amendment away from my amendment and helped defeat it. In fact, we saw how close that vote was. But now that that vote is over, I applaud Senator Reid for his offer:

I will bring it up some other time. I am committed to doing this.

I am here to say that this time, right now, these next 2 weeks, is a perfect "some other time.'' We are clearly in a bit of a lull in terms of floor activity, this week and next week, before we begin an important debate on the budget. The majority leader is looking for things to take up our floor time. We are clearly in a light period. So what better ``some other time'' than right here, right now? In that spirit, and in the spirit of cooperation to move forward, I sent the majority leader a letter last Thursday and I expressed these thoughts and I asked him to bring up his freestanding bill, or mine, or any freestanding bill to end pay raises for Members of Congress being on autopilot on the Senate floor as soon as possible. As I pointed out, this clearly has support to move this through the process, through the Senate in the near future.

It does not have unanimous support. Any issue such as this never would have unanimous support. But it has the support of over 60 Members of this body.

Why do I say that? It is simple math. On the vote on my amendment I obtained 45 ``yes'' votes. In addition to those 45 votes, there were 20 Members, including the distinguished majority leader, who voted against my amendment, saying that the only reason they were doing that was to not burden the omnibus spending bill with the amendment. They said on the record, they are for the concept and Senator Reid introduced a freestanding bill in this body and he has coauthors to that freestanding bill in that number--20. It is simple math. If you add 45 and 20 you come up with 65, well over a filibuster-proof number, well over the 60 votes required to not only move this bill through the Senate but move it through in a fairly expedited, efficient, quick process.

The perfect time is now. We are clearly in 2 weeks of relative lull before the debate on the budget. The majority leader clearly is looking for important business to bring to the floor, particularly since cram-down and other issues are not being brought to the floor this week as planned. What better time to come together in a bipartisan way, to rebuild the confidence of the American people and to get this done, passing it through the Senate. Again:

I will bring it up some other time. I am committed to doing this.

The distinguished majority leader.

Again I ask the majority leader in a spirit of bipartisanship, of cooperation, of reestablishing the confidence of the American people in Congress by doing away with this offensive practice--pay raises on autopilot without debate, without legislation, without a vote, without even a line item in an appropriations bill which we can try to change through amendment--let's change that wrong and offensive practice.

I urge the distinguished majority leader to look at my letter of last Thursday, to consider it carefully, to understand that we have established through his bill, through my vote, 65 votes in support of doing away with this on the Senate floor. So let's act. With 65 votes we can act, we can be successful, and we can do it in a very efficient manner. What better time to do it than right now?

I yield the floor.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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