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Published: Friday, 12/28/2001

Passing the bucks

Members of Congress have their own idea about how to stimulate the economy: give themselves a pay raise. In a sly and insensitive move the Senate late at night voted 65-33 not to block a raise that will increase legislators' annual pay 3.4 percent, to $150,000, beginning in January.

A 12-year-old law allowed lawmakers to give themselves an annual cost-of-living increase, so clearly Congress has done nothing illegal. But with the American people anxious in the face of the terrorist attacks, massive layoffs, and an uncertain economy, the timing is terrible.

Among the hundreds of thousands of people who are out of work, many got lay-off notices when their jobs were adversely affected by the Sept. 11 attacks. So how does Congress empathize? By boosting its own pay.

Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin questioned the timing and tried to stop senators from voting for the raise. Also, 14 of the 30 senators who will seek re-election in 2002 are on record as voting against the pay boost. Good for them, although one wonders if they would be so altruistic if they were not running next year. Among those who did not object with the increase: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott.

The House version of the pay-increase legislation had already passed. So when Congress gets its pay increase next month, it will be the third in four years. Through the late 1990s Congress voted far less frequently to grant the raises, but when they did, they could at least say they were doing so in a healthy economy.

Things are different now. Congress should be showing empathy with the thousands who are, and will be, drawing unemployment, not rubbing their noses in it.

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