WASHINGTON — For the third straight year, only one House member Thursday spoke up against Congress giving itself an automatic pay raise: Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.
"Surprisingly," he said half-jokingly, "I stand up and speak out, and nobody else says anything." Matheson said that after losing 240-173 on a procedural vote as he sought to halt a raise that would increase members' pay by about $3,300 a year, from the current $154,700 to about $158,000 next year.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, voted with Matheson. But Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, voted with the majority to preserve the raise.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Congress receives a raise automatically each year based on formulas in the annual Transportation and Treasury Appropriations bill, unless a member seeks a separate vote on congressional pay.
For the third year in a row, Matheson sought such a direct vote but lost on the vote needed to allow it.
"At least I am getting more votes," Matheson said. "Last year, we had 156 votes. The year before that, we had 129. So at least we are going in the right direction."
Matheson told the House that it should "adopt some belt-tightening" like other American families have had to do. "Now is not the time to be voting ourselves a pay raise . . . we need to show the American people that we are willing to make sacrifices."
Matheson said he expects to fight a raise again next year — and again may be the only one voicing opposition.
"I'm not saying that Congress should never ever give itself a raise, but in the times we are in — with the economy in bad shape, and the budget and deficit problems — a raise is not the right signal to send to the American people," he told the Deseret Morning News.
Under a complicated formula in the bill, federal civilian and military employees would receive a 4.1 percent pay raise next year, while members of Congress would get a 2.2 percent boost.
Salaries for members of Congress were frozen at $133,600 from 1993 to 1997, stood at $136,700 the next two years and have risen annually since then.
The 4.1 percent raise for federal workers more than doubles the 2 percent recommended by President Bush, who cited the costs of the war on terrorism in seeking a lower rate.