After hearing Virginia Rep. James P. Moran's comments last week that congressmen are underpaid, we felt he was either very brave or just plain foolish.

Certainly his timing could have been better. The comments came just a few days after the latest Gallup poll showed that approval ratings for congress had tanked to 13 percent, not far from the all-time low of nine percent set last November.

But the Virginia Democrat really had nothing to lose with his statements. After 12 terms, he's calling it quits so he isn't facing a re-election fight like many colleagues this year.

Moran was no doubt angered by a legislative appropriations bill introduced by Republican colleagues that would keep in place a pay freeze that has been in effect for senators and House members for four years. That's still better rate than in the public sector where the median household income has fallen 4.9 percent to $51,017 during that period.

Since he was first elected, Moran's paycheck has grown 39 percent to reach his present annual salary of $174,000.

"I understand that it's widely felt that (members of Congress) under perform, but the fact is that [Congress] is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world," Moran said in his pay raise comments last week.

He failed to mention that under the present leadership in Washington, this large "economic entity" has managed to add $17.6 trillion to the national debt.

Moran introduced legislation that would give a daily housing stipend to members who travel outside a 50 mile radius to and from the Capitol for legislative business, giving them an additional $25 for every day they are working in DC. It failed by voice vote in committee negotiations.

The public feedback to Moran's pay raise comments was swift.

"You're overpaid for your results," said one critic. "It's not about efforts. We have a bunch of aristocrats running the show now."

"These people make me sick!" another stated. "They ALL are OVER PAID!! I think they should start getting a decrease every year till they are down to $100,00 a year. How do they think most Americans live on $50,000 or less a year!"

Another responder agreed that our leaders should be well paid and favored a merit pay system whereby the top achievers are compensated for doing their best work.

If it's left up to the taxpayers to decide on merit pay, then congressmen shouldn't expect to see a pay increase any time soon.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com