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Bemidji Pioneer Editorial: Cut pay to Congress by 5 percent

(Editor's note: The following editorial appeared in the Bemidji Pioneer today. The Pioneer and the Echo Press are owned by Forum Communications Company.)

They say, "what's good for the goose is good for the gander."

That should be the case of our representatives in Congress -- both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. With federal debt piling up, and the U.S. balance sheet showing more than $1 trillion in arrears this fiscal year alone, members of Congress are looking everywhere to cut spending. Some more serious than others.

Arizona Democrat Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick thinks members of Congress should include themselves. She's calling for a 5 percent pay cut for members of Congress, from the current $174,000 they now receive to $165,300 -- a reduction of $8,700.

It's pretty hard to advocate spending cuts that affect our most vulnerable citizens and yet continue to collect pay unabated by the economy. Most of us have frozen pay, cut pay, furloughs without pay or the ultimate -- laid off and unemployed.

Would it be asking too much for Congress to rein in its spending, starting with their own salaries? And perhaps they can get by with a few less aides or fewer "official trips" to wherever they think fact-finding is needed next.

Oddly, the last time Congress cut its pay was April 1, 1933, right in the middle of the Great Depression. They voted to cut their salary $500 - from $9,000 to $8,500. In this time of the Great Recession, perhaps the time has come to do it again.

Even with Kirkpatrick's proposed pay cut, congressional salary buying power be ahead of what it was for them in 1990, so they really don't end up as paupers with the reduction.

Senior citizens were held without a raise this year in Social Security, and the Obama administration budget for 2011 predicts another Social Security freeze. Why not include members of Congress?

Unfortunately, even if members who face re-election this fall jump on the bandwagon and the pay reduction measure passes, It most likely would be removed behind closed doors in conference committee. That happed with former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, DFL-Minn., who authored "A Taste of Their Own Medicine" bill to get members to subscribe to the same health insurance as the rest of us. It enthusiastically passed, then mysteriously disappeared in conference committee.

Some may say a pay cut is only an empty gesture, one that won't bail out the Treasury's trillions of debt. True, but it shows a willingness to get in the street with the rest of us, who may be feeling a lot deeper pain.