ABOUT THAT PAY RAISE….Just a month ago, it looked like lawmakers were making a welcome gesture about their salaries. On a 92-6 vote, the Senate agreed to forgo the annual cost-of-living increase to their salary, with lawmakers saying all the right things about doing their part to save a little extra money in the federal budget.

That was last month. Last week, according to Roll Call, lawmakers saw their pay raise may a startling comeback.

Friday’s passage of the $65.9 billion Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development conference report included a provision that earmarked some $2 million for Members’ annual pay hike.

Despite near-unanimous Senate support to forgo the fiscal 2006 cost of living adjustment, the conference report included House language that gives Members an additional $3,100 beginning next January, bringing pay for rank-and-file lawmakers to $165,200 from the current $162,100. Members of the elected leadership are paid slightly more.

Truth be told, we’re not talking about a lot of money. With today’s fiscal outlook, the savings associated with congressional salaries aren’t even a rounding error.

There is, however, a symbolic significance. Lawmakers emphasized a sense of “sacrifice” when they cut funding on food stamps, low-income health care, and child care assistance. But when it comes to a personal sacrifice from members of Congress, they’re still quietly giving themselves a raise.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who, along with Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) helps lead the drive to freeze congressional salaries, hopes to make this a political issue in the future.

“People will find it hard to understand that Members of Congress will be getting a substantial pay raise at a time of enormous budget deficits and mounting debt, a costly, open-ended war in Iraq, and growing expenses for hurricane relief,” he said in a statement.

And what’s the flip side? According to Tom DeLay, lawmakers aren’t boosting their own pay. “It’s not a pay raise,” DeLay said. “It’s an adjustment so that they’re not losing their purchasing power.”

The campaign ads write themselves, don’t they?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.