With another scandal in Congress brewing, politicians are known as much for talking fast, taking bribes, and feathering their own nest with lavish trips and a virtual guarantee of lifetime employement once elected to the position of Congressman as they are for conducting legislative business of the country in a manner befitting a great country.
A national stereotype of a used car salesman is a person who will do or say anything to get you to pay for taking a used car off of the lot–truth and ethics are way down on the list of the qualities we expect from the profession because it is not in the self-interest of the sales person to be truthful, honest and be able to make money at the same time. Unfortunately, the overall impression of our legislators who have the authority to take and spend billions of dollars is on roughly the same level. In fact, our reasons for the low public opinion of our elected federal representatives may be based on the same logic we apply to used car salespeople. (See this article with a poll taken before the latest scandals had an impact on public opinion.)
But while the overall impression of Congress may be one of slimy, untrustworthy individuals no one doubts the ability of an elected representative to spot a good, vote-getting issue when he sees it.
Hence the annual parade of press releases on the annual federal pay raise.
For some federal employees, the first paycheck reflecting the 2006 pay raise will come this week. The first news items about the 2007 pay raise are now hitting the newswires.
A group of Congressmen from the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area has announced they are supporting pay parity between military personnel and federal civilian employees in 2007. You may feel like you have heard this same news story before. In fact, you have heard it before.
For some, it is a beautiful sight. Republicans and Democrats, men and women, all elected Congressional officials united in a common cause–getting more money for their constituents. Federal employees dominate the political landscape in Washington, DC and its suburbs. Any politician who didn’t favor a raise (preferably a big one) for federal employees would be a shoo-in to be voted out of office in the next election if he or she was not hounded out of office before November.
It would be news if a Congressional representative from the Washington, DC area came out against a federal pay raise or against pay parity. Parity is a good political issue. Even the most liberal, anti-war politicians like to come out in favor of our troops fighting in overseas locations most of us couldn’t find on a map. Arguing against a pay raise for the military is un-American or at least not a good way to get re-elected to Congress. Politicians across the country, in both red and blue states, usually don’t want to be seen as not being supportive of our troops overseas.
Taking on the issue of a bigger pay raise for federal employees isn’t the same.
Federal employees in the Washington, DC area will average about $80,000 in 2006. That would be unwelcome news to most taxpayers.
Most federal employees around the country make a lot less. But the image of an overweight, lazy bureaucrat sitting in a cubicle, with generous retirement benefits, secure lifetime employment and making more money than the average taxpayer will ever take home is not uncommon. Take a trip to any local eating establishment in America’s heartland and pick anyone at random. Ask them something like “Do you support federal employees receiving at least a 2% raise in 2007?” It would be safe to predict the answer would be overwhelming and along the lines of “Are you out of your mind?”
Organizations like the Partnership for Public Service may have made inroads into changing the image of federal employees but federal government employees are probably the ones who most often see the results of their work. For most politicians, voting against a pay raise for federal employees is an easy decision. A pay raise usually occurs, despite the opposition of whichever party is currently occuping the White House, largely because it is lumped in with massive appropriations bills and the pay raise is one small, insignificant part of the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on other government programs.
Your 2007 pay will be decided by a political process. Fortunately for those on the federal payroll, the perception of the average American regarding your pay and benefits probably won’t be that significant. The decision will be made as one of political calculation. What groups are lobbying for the pay raise? Who is lobbying against it? How much political heat will voting for or against the pay raise generate in the home district? Those are the issues that will determine the look of the 2007 pay tables.
What’s in store for 2007? No one really knows and events (such as the outcome of the November elections) can quickly change Congressional voting patterns. In all likelihood, federal employees will get a raise in 2007; the raise will probably be less than 3.1%; the raise will probably not match the rate of inflation we will experience in 2007; there will be the usual threats and recriminations and many news stories on the issue; the final result will not be known until December 2007.