WASHINGTON -- Frustrated freshmen House members yesterday invoked founding father James Madison, saying voters should be able to have their say about whopping congressional pay raises before the members get to pocket the money.
Although Madison has been dead 155 years, the $23,200 raise the Senate just gave itself shows that the still-unratified constitutional amendment he proposed in 1789 is needed more than ever, said Representative John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, leader of the bipartisan trio of rookies.
The amendment would delay any pay increase until after the congressional election following its passage.
"If we're going to give ourselves a pay raise, they ought to let us know how they feel about that in an election," Mr. Boehner said of the voters.
Madison put the case a bit more formally in pitching the amendment to Congress, which sent it to the states for ratification Sept. 15, 1789.
"There is a seeming impropriety in leaving any set of men without control to put their hand into the public coffers, to take out money to put into their pockets; there is a seeming indecorum in such power, which leads me to propose a change."
At the time, members earned $6 a day; now they get $125,100.
The amendment has been ratified by 35 states, three short of the 38 needed for adoption. Mr. Boehner's group introduced a resolution calling for three more states to join. Thirty-seven states already impose such pay raise limitations on their state legislatures, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Madison's pay raise proposal has had a checkered career.
By 1791, it had been approved by only six states with 11 needed for adoption. The count stood at six for 82 years until Ohio gave its approval in 1873. Wyoming signed on next in 1978. Then the pace quickened. Last March, North Dakota became the 35th state to give its approval.
Mr. Boehner said freshmen Representatives Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Thomas Ewing, R-Ill., have promised to work on their state legislatures. Mr. Boehner hopes to pick up one more state from the remaining 13 -- Alabama, California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington.
The amendment was proposed without a deadline for ratification. States have had to ratify more recent amendments within seven years.
Congress could decide to reject the amendment on grounds that it has been pending too long, said Congressional Research analyst David C. Huckabee. But some political scientists think that's unlikely.