Pay increases for me, but not for thee

PAY INCREASES FOR ME, BUT NOT FOR THEE…. Almost immediately upon taking office, President Obama froze the pay for his senior staff. In the big picture, it amounted to a very small amount of savings, but the move was intended as a symbolic gesture.

On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, congressional Republicans have taken a very different course.

For a guy who insists that federal bureaucrats make too much money, incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sure doesn’t mind handing out handsome government raises of his own.

Cantor, the Virginia Republican who has led the GOP charge this year to freeze federal salaries, has boosted his congressional office’s payroll by 81 percent since coming to Congress in 2001 — about 8 percent per year through 2009. When he became minority whip last year, the office’s personnel expenses went up by at least 16 percent.

Cantor and other GOP leaders are now pledging to cut their budgets by 5 percent when they take over the House in January — a symbolic gesture aimed at showing a commitment to slowing Washington spending. But the lawmakers suddenly calling for wage cuts often haven’t practiced what they’re preaching.

Imagine that. Congressional Republicans, just as a matter of course, complain ad nauseum about the federal workforce and GOP perceptions about soaring public-sector wages. In reality, congressional pay has risen much faster than the civilian federal work force, while “many of most vocal federal critics have overseen growth that rivals or outstrips the executive branch’s.”

The names in the AP’s report are going to be familiar. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has seen her own payroll jump 16% in just the last three years. And while that’s unusually high, even for Congress, other prominent right-wing lawmakers, including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), are in the ballpark.

To be sure, I’m entirely comfortable with congressional staffers receiving generous compensation. I want lawmakers, regardless of party, to have qualified, capable aides helping shape federal policy, and recruiting and keeping a highly-skilled workforce requires competitive salaries. This is not an argument in support of pay cuts for these public employees — on the contrary, I’d like to see more workers with more money in their pockets, not the other way around.

I would note, though, that the hypocrisy is unsettling. Some of the same far-right lawmakers who hate earmarks are demanding earmarks, just as some of the same far-right lawmakers who are desperate to slash public-sector pay are giving their own employees raises.