By Erin P. Billings and John McArdle
Roll Call Staff
Lawmakers who want to cast a vote against Congress’ automatic cost-of-living pay hike each year can put their money where their mouths are, if Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has his way.
The Senate ethics package contains a holdover provision from last year’s Senate-passed ethics and lobbying reform bill that would block lawmakers who voted against the COLA from receiving the raise the following year. The language cleared the Senate in 2006 when the chamber overwhelmingly approved the ethics package, but it died with the rest of the ethics package in conference committee.
This year, the Inhofe provision could be removed on the floor or later in the process, sources advised.
“It’s an open legislative process right now,” said one Senate Democratic leadership aide. “It’s up to the Senate. [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid (D-Nev.) has set up a process to let the Senate work its way.”
Inhofe said Wednesday he is sticking behind his provision to ensure that those Senators who regularly seek to prevent Members from getting the COLA put their money where their mouths are.
He said he’s tired of lawmakers making a show of opposing annual pay increases, just to end up getting them with everyone else when the appropriations bills move through.
“It’s to do away with hypocrisy,” Inhofe said.
Each year, a group of lawmakers — in both chambers — attempt to prevent Congress from getting a raise. Those efforts inevitably fail given it requires a separate vote by Members to stop the raise from occurring.
The language Inhofe drafted last year would have earmarked the money — otherwise for the Member pay raise — to a Treasury account to provide medical services to the Veterans Health Administration.
Inhofe has since offered a technical correction to the current ethics bill to do away with that earmark. In so doing, he may have averted a potential 2008 political pitfall for incumbent lawmakers since those Members who voted to keep their raise would in effect take away money for veterans.
The Senate is expected to vote on the ethics reform package by the end of next week.
Inhofe said he’s hopeful his language will hold, believing that Members who seek political advantage from opposing a pay increase shouldn’t get one. “It’s in there now, no one that I know of is trying to take it out.”
But in the House, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), who has been a strong opponent of Member COLAs during his time on Capitol Hill, said Wednesday that he would oppose Inhofe’s provision, explaining that “all Congressman ought to be treated the same.”
Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.