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Joint session of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives
Op-Ed

One thing America can’t be angry at Congress about

Public-opinion polls find public trust of Congress at near-record lows. The facts are damning enough, but many people appear ready to believe anything nasty about Congress whether or not it’s true.

A case study:  The other day on NPR’s Morning Edition, I explained why Social Security recipients won’t be getting a cost-of-living adjustment next year. In short, the Social Security COLA is tied to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. That index hasn’t risen over the past 12 months. Decreases in energy prices, among other things, offset increases in the prices of food, housing and medical care.

It’s easy to understand why a lot of people believe the cost of the things they buy are rising even if the government index isn’t, and I heard from those skeptics. I was surprised, though, to hear from people protesting, many on social media, that Congress has been getting cost-of-living raises even when Social Security beneficiaries don’t.

That isn’t true.

A 1989 law does call for congressional salaries to rise each year automatically with the Employment Cost Index  for private-sector workers, but Congress has voted to deny itself that raise every year since 2010.  Congressional salaries have been set at $174,000 since January 2009. (For the history of congressional pay, see a recent Congressional Research Service report)  Congress hasn’t voted to cancel the pending increase for 2016 yet, but there’s time. Last year’s vote didn’t come until Dec. 16 and it didn’t suspend the 2013 raise until Jan. 2 of that year.

President Obama has exercised his power to give other federal employees, who didn’t get raises in 2011, 2012 or 2013, an across-the-board pay increase of 1% in 2016; with adjustments to extra pay for workers in certain high-cost locations, the average pay increase will be 1.3%.


Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on The Wall Street Journal.

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