As the national debt climbs over $13.5 trillion, the unemployment rate hovers near 10 percent and Congress considers extending the Bush-era tax cuts, one House Democrat says it is time to lead by example, calling for a five percent cut to congressional salaries.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Arizona, introduced a bill, H.R. 4720, the Taking Responsibility for Congressional Pay Act, last March, but it has stalled in committee. On Thursday, Kirkpatrick wrote Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, calling for a floor vote on the measure before Congress adjourns in early October.
"Representatives have to make sacrifices of their own before they ask anyone else to do without. For more than a decade, both parties have buried this country deeper and deeper in debt. Naturally, the American people now do not trust Congress to set the right priorities," Kirkpatrick wrote in the letter Thursday. "We need to prove that we are actually serious about restoring fiscal discipline -- serious enough to start the cutbacks with our own pocketbooks."
If the measure passes, it would mark the first congressional pay cut since April 1, 1933 during the height of the Great Depression. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives earn a base pay of $174,000 per year and Kirkpatrick's proposed pay cut would amount to $8,700 savings per representative each year. The bill also would cut the base salaries of members of the U.S. Senate.
Kirkpatrick says the measure is not a "silver bullet" to fix all of the country's economic woes, but rather, she says, it is a necessary first step to restore fiscal discipline to Washington. Members of Congress should make sacrifices of their own before they can credibly look their constituents in the eye and ask them to cut back, Kirkpatrick says.
"A recent poll showed that 75 percent of Americans across the country think Congress should take a pay cut," Kirkpatrick said. "I'm continuing to talk to my colleagues, got a few more sponsors on the bill this week, and so we'll continue to push it. It's still about jobs and getting people back to work, and after being in the district for six weeks, you know I realized it's still a struggle. It's still a struggle out there."
Since introducing the bill last March, Kirkpatrick has voluntarily returned five percent of her own base pay each month by writing a check for $870 to the Bureau of the Public Debt. If the measure passes, Kirkpatrick's office says it would save taxpayers about $4.7 million each year.
"This is an idea that came from the folks back home. I was out shoveling snow last December and my neighbors were getting pink-slipped, furloughed, laid off, and I said, 'You know, Congress should feel the same pain, the same pain that the American people are feeling right now,'" Kirkpatrick said. "We should cut our pay. It would be the first time in 77 years that Congress has cut its pay, so I think it's about time."
Kirkpatrick also told ABC News that she opposes letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for the high-income tax bracket -- individuals making more than $200,000 and families earning more than $250,000 per year.
"Having listened to all the businesses in my district over and over again, saying 'this is not the time to raise taxes,' we cannot raise taxes," Kirkpatrick said. "So we [should] keep the cuts that we have in place and we've got to continue to get our economy moving again."
Kirkpatrick, who represents Arizona's first congressional district, says her constituents come from a large, rural area where the economy was not very strong even before the financial crisis struck in 2008. She says a tax increase would harm small businesses there.
"These are good people, and you know, they're hard working people, common sense and I listen to them," Kirkpatrick said. "They're still really struggling to keep their doors open, and consistently they've said 'this is not the time to raise taxes.' So I think we've got to be able to keep their doors open, get out of their way, let them run their businesses so that they can continue to keep people and hire new people."