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Pay hike is new obstacle for omnibus

From NBC's Ken Strickland
The $410 billion spending bill being debated on the Senate floor could be in trouble, but not because of earmarks or increased spending. The whole bill could go down over congressional pay increases and whether members are willing to stand up and say -- in these economic times -- they want one.

Tomorrow, the Senate will vote on an amendment from Republican Sen. David Vitter that would require members to vote publicly on their annual pay increases instead of the current system that lets it kick in automatically. While it may seem like a political no-brainer, if the amendment passes and changes the underlying bill, Democratic leaders have suggested they'd pull the bill from the floor.

"This system of automatic, auto-pilot pay raise really is offensive to the American people," Vitter said in a speech on the Senate floor. "There never has to be any inconvenient debate, any inconvenient votes whatsoever. They just happen automatically, no votes."

But Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye says Vitter's amendment isn't about pay raises -- but is instead designed to kill the underlying spending bill "knowing that the House of Representatives has indicated they will not take this bill back up." The government would then likely have to operate under last year's lower spending levels.

Inouye argues that what Vitter calls "pay raises" are merely "pay adjustments" based on inflation. "Most Americans will tell you that when they do receive a pay adjustment to their wages, they do not consider that to be a pay raise." (The bill on the floor DOES eliminate Congress' 2010 pay raise, but goes back on auto pilot after that.)