Do the members of Congress deserve a pay raise?

That question is likely to induce scorn or, perhaps, ironic laughter, for many. The members of Congress, as a whole, aren’t particularly popular.

So it’s hardly a surprise that a bipartisan plan in Congress to increase lawmakers’ salaries after a decadelong pay freeze is facing resistance from the lawmakers who would see their annual salary of $174,000 increase.

They fear a public backlash at the next election. The fear is well founded, particularly with income equality ravaging many Americans.

The nation’s politicians, whether Republican or Democrat, are viewed with skepticism by many. And when folks learn members of Congress are paid $174,000 a year — three times the average salary of Americans — many are taken aback.

This is why, in the midst of the Great Recession a decade ago, Congress opted to forgo its annual cost-of-living increase. It has now done so each year since then.

The idea of taking the increase now — estimated at about $4,500 a year — has been gaining momentum. Lawmakers in politically competitive districts have recoiled at the idea.

The unrest prompted Democratic leaders Monday night to delay action on annual legislation to fund congressional operations, according to The Associated Press.

“That’s something that everybody would have to come together on in terms of bipartisanship,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of approving the pay raise. “Until we have that there’s no reason to even discuss it.”

While this might be frustrating for those in Congress who find it difficult to maintain two residences, it’s the reality of serving at the pleasure of the people. In order to justify a pay raise, Congress must be doing its job well.

Right now, that’s debatable — hence the debate within the House and Senate.

Those in Congress who want a cost-of-living increase make the case that if the salary paid does not cover personal expenses then the only people who can serve in Congress are the wealthy. We agree that’s a concern, but it’s one that a cost-of-living increase will not solve. Larger reform is needed.

The issue at hand is whether the members of Congress are in touch with the people they serve.

If they feel they are, and they feel they deserve the pay hike, then they should support it and accept the consequences at the next election,

But if they don’t, they might be wise to put off the increase for another year and do their jobs in such a way that the public will support their higher pay.

The pay system in Congress was designed to hold its members accountable for salary increases. It’s working.

Editorials are the opinion of the Union-Bulletin's Editorial Board. The board is composed of Brian Hunt, Rick Eskil, James Blethen and Alasdair Stewart

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