Another Sign Of The Declineby Brad Warbiany
Congressional pay increases. Ratified 5/7/1992.
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.
The United States existed for over 200 years before such an amendment was necessary. How much of a lack of trust does it show in our legislators that only 14 years ago was it actually ratified? We’ve now gotten to the point where we can’t trust our legislators not to increase their own pay while in session. Granted, in current times when the power of incumbency is so strong that 98% of the crooks typically get reelected, it’s a moot point. It’s still a sign of the trust we place in them.
Oddly enough, the amendment was originally slated to be one of the original, and was sent to the states for ratification with the other amendments now known as the Bill of Rights. It took until someone looked back into history and realized that it was still possible to ratify it that it actually happened. What occurs when an amendment limiting the powers of Congress languishes for 200+ years to be ratified? Well, Congress fights it on technical grounds, of course!
Notwithstanding the Coleman v. Miller decision, Speaker of the House Tom Foley and others called for a legal challenge to the 27th Amendment’s irregular ratification. However, the Coleman ruling made clear that only Congress has the authority to determine whether an amendment has or has not been properly made part of the Constitution. The courts would not involve themselves in such a “political question”, the justices asserted. Because Congressional opposition to ratification would be seen as little more than self-interest, reaction on Capitol Hill was muted.
However, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, then-President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate, scolded Wilson for having certified the Amendment without Congressional approval. Although Byrd supported Congressional acceptance of the 27th Amendment, he contended that Wilson had deviated from “historic tradition” by not waiting for Congress to consider the validity of the ratification, given the 202½-year lapse since the Amendment had been proposed.
Yeah, since Byrd has shown himself over the many decades to put the nation’s interest above his own, I’m sure he was being completely sincere.
You would think this would have ensured that when the Representatives set their own pay, that would be a binding matter for two years. Thankfully for these tireless champions of the people, they’ve found a way to make sure that’s not the case:
Since its 1992 adoption, however, this amendment has not hindered members of Congress from receiving nearly annual pay raises, characterized as “cost-of-living adjustments” (COLAs) rather than as pay raises in the traditional sense of the term. The federal courts have ruled in cases brought under the amendment that a COLA is not the same thing as a pay raise. Hence, members of Congress have been able to enjoy increases in compensation without triggering the restrictions which this amendment seeks to impose.
Well, when we have a Congress staffed by a bunch of lawyers, I think we all knew you’d find a loophole.