Technically, it's a cost of living allowance (COLA) -- something pretty standard for government employees and fairly common in the private sector as well. As Denny Rehberg's sleeping in his office indicates, $165,200 a year is none too much, given the cost of living in the D.C. area. Fortunately, Millionaires populate the U.S. Senate. For the record, as of 2003, 8 of the top 10 richest U.S. Senators were Democrats. And as of 2004, more than a quarter of the House members had reported incomes of more than $1 million a year. None of these people are going to be anxiously awaiting their paycheck in order to pay the rent.
The old gentleman's agreement to allow a yearly 1.7% COLA, with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans to block any attempt to stop it, was probably a good one -- that is, if one believes that the Congress should not become any more of a millionaires' club than it already is. As Trent Lott commented, "it's very easy for the multimillionaires ... to demagogue this issue."
But Republicans were right to block this year's COLA, because Democrats broke the agreement not to camapaign on the issue of Congressional pay raises, with the DCCC running ads criticizing Republicans for voting for a COLA.
We know this right here in Montana. Through the beauties of a Google cache, this is from Jon Tester's campaign Website:
Conrad Burns Voted To Raise His Pay At Least Four Times. Conrad Burns voted to raise his own pay at least four times. He now makes $165,000 a year. [HR 2989, Vote #406, 10/23/03; Washington Post, 10/24/03; HR 5005, Vote #242, 11/13/02; AP, 11/13/02; HR 3338, Vote #360, 12/7/01; AP, 12/7/01; HR 2506, Vote #133, 7/17/91; UPI, 7/17/91; United States Senate Web Site]
Further ads in maildrops compared this salary to that of the average Montanan.
Yet before the end of November, reality had sunk in for Tester, and he was commenting to the press about the cost of trying to travel back and forth to Washington with his wife, saying that it was "going to be difficult financially."
Just think how much more difficult it would be if Tester did the honest thing and gave back the part of his Senate salary made possible by those 4 pay raises.