Can Congress justify its pay raise increase?

Last week, the U.S. Senate voted 60-34 not to exempt itself from a cost-of-living pay increase coming next year to all federal employees. In doing so, the senators mimicked earlier action by their colleagues in the House. As a result, senators' pay in 2004 will rise to $158,000 a year from the current $154,700.
   That's only 2.2 percent, but given that Congress has had a lot to do with the federal budget going from a surplus to a record deficit in a couple of years, any raise on such a substantial salary is hard to justify.
   Not that senators didn't try. Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, actually said, "This is not a pay raise. This is an increase that's required by law."
   Yes, but Congress writes the laws and it wrote this automatic COLA into the law because members grew tired of trying to justify raises for themselves with separate votes. Now, they get the raise automatically unless they vote to exempt themselves, which they haven't done for five years.