Pay cuts proposed by congresswoman should be part of supercommittee’s deficit reduction plan, according to letter
WASHINGTON – The office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is leading a bipartisan effort to urge the supercommittee to cut salaries of members of Congress as part of its comprehensive deficit-reduction program.
In a letter to the 12 members of the supercommittee, formally called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, 25 members of the House said cutting the salaries of senators and representatives would “send a powerful message to the American people that Congress should not be exempt from the sacrifices it will take to balance the budget.”
Giffords introduced legislation in January that would cut her own salary and that of her colleagues in the House and Senate by 5 percent. She introduced the bill only two days before she was shot and critically wounded while meeting with constituents in Tucson. The bill has not progressed.
“We are living in tough economic times,” Giffords said in January. “Everyone is being forced to make sacrifices. Members of Congress can’t ask any American to cut back before we are willing to make some sacrifices of our own. I’m prepared to do that and I want my colleagues to join me.”
Today’s letter to the supercommittee was signed by 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans. It notes that members of the House and Senate are paid $174,000 per year – 3.4 times what the average American with a fulltime job earns. A 5 percent cut, as proposed by Giffords in January, would save $50 million over 10 years. Adjustments to members’ benefit packages, which can be worth 47 percent of salaries, could result in millions of dollars in additional savings.
The supercommittee is made up six Democrats and six Republicans, equally divided between the House and Senate. It was formed as part of legislation that avoided a default by the U.S. government. Giffords traveled to Washington Aug. 1 to vote in support of that agreement – the only vote she has cast since being wounded.
The supercommittee is charged with finding, by a Thanksgiving deadline, at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions over a decade. If they don’t reach agreement, automatic spending cuts totaling that amount would take effect beginning in 2013 with $500 billion of those cuts coming in the Department of Defense.
When Giffords introduced her bill in January, she noted that cutting the salaries of members of Congress is supported by numerous taxpayer groups, such as Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens Against Government Waste and the National Taxpayers Union.
The pay cut proposed by Giffords would cut member pay immediately after the November 2012 election. It is not possible to cut salaries sooner because the 27th Amendment to the Constitution does not allow pay adjustments between election cycles. Giffords’ bill also would block all automatic pay increases to members of Congress.
While the base pay for House and Senate lawmakers is $174,000, the majority and minority leaders each make $193,400 per year. The House speaker is paid $223,500.
The last time members of Congress took a cut in pay was in the midst of the Great Depression, on April 1, 1933. Members’ salaries at the time went from $9,000 per year to $8,500 per year, a reduction of 5.6 percent.
“Congresswoman Giffords strongly feels that members of Congress must lead by example as we tighten federal spending,” Pia Carusone, Giffords’ chief of staff, said today.
“As the supercommittee grapples with ways to make spending cuts, we feel it is essential that they include cuts to their own salaries as part of a final package,” Carusone added. “We especially appreciate the efforts of Reps. David Schweikert of Arizona, Mike Coffman of Colorado, Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania and Chellie Pingree of Maine who spearheaded this effort”
In January, House members voted to cut the budgets of their offices by 5 percent annually for two years. Giffords supported the cuts. Those cuts are expected to save $35.2 million this year. For Giffords, the 5 percent office budget cut represents about $78,400 of the amount that the House has allotted to her to maintain offices in Tucson, Sierra Vista and Washington.
The congressional office budgets pay salaries of House staff members as well as rent for district offices, travel, office supplies and other miscellaneous office costs.
A copy of the letter to the supercommittee is available by clicking here.