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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Congress Did Not Raise Its Pay, Deny Seniors Increase

Chris Cates, a Republican congressional candidate in Georgia’s May 11 special election, says in a new TV ad that Congress voted to give itself a pay raise, while denying senior citizens on Social Security a cost-of-living increase. He’s wrong on both counts.

In “Fed Up,” an ad that started running May 3, Cates gives a litany of complaints about Congress, including that it has “gold-plated health insurance” (a matter of opinion, but members of Congress receive the same health care plans as federal workers ), that it has a “fat retirement” (which is relatively true compared with today’s vanishing pension plans), and that it raises taxes (yes it does, and it cuts them, too).

Lots of viewers probably agree with him. About 7 in 10 Americans disapprove of the job that Congress is doing, according to polling data collected by realclearpolitics.com.

But then he goes too far: “Congress even gave itself a pay raise and denied one to the elderly on Social Security. That’s wrong.”

Yup, that’s wrong. But it’s Cates, not Congress, who is wrong. Congress did not deny seniors a Social Security pay raise – as we pointed out last year, when seniors on Social Security for the first time in 35 years did not receive a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and a bogus e-mail blaming Democrats in Congress was circulating. The fact is: Congress has nothing to do with the Social Security COLA. For a detail explanation of how it works read our article from last year or the Social Security fact sheet on cost-of-living adjustments.

This charge may surface again, because there may not be a Social Security COLA again this year. But we won’t know that for sure until October, when the Social Security Administration makes that official determination.

Now, did Congress vote to give itself a pay raise while seniors on Social Security went without? No. In fact, Congress did the opposite. It voted to block a scheduled pay increase, as we wrote last year. And it appears that Congress is on track to do the same thing this year. On April 27, the House voted 402-15 not to accept a cost-of-living pay increase in 2011. Roll call vote 226 can be found here. The Senate unanimously and without a roll call vote did the same on April 22.

So, you can blame Congress for a lot of things – if you like – but it’s just not true that it denied seniors a pay raise while raising its own pay.