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27: Congressional pay raises

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

27TH AMENDMENT (1992)

Originally, Gregory Watson set out to write a term paper on the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have outlawed discrimination on the basis of gender but failed when it didn't win ratification by three-fourths of the states. The University of Texas undergraduate was digging through books in 1982 at the Austin Public Library when he stumbled across a list of amendments that Congress sent out to the states to be ratified and which were never returned for lack of sufficient endorsement.

"This one immediately stood out and captured my attention," Watson recalls. It was among 12 amendments that dated to the original Congress and it prevented a congressional pay raise from taking effect until an election had taken place. In short: Congressmen who vote to raise their salaries would then have to stand for election.

Watson discovered that several states had passed the amendment and it was still floating around out there. He wrote a paper that suggested the amendment was still in play and could yet be passed. "The professor gave me a C on the paper. When I protested she said I had not convinced her the amendment was still pending," Watson said. He began writing to legislators around the nation who kicked it back into life and, two centuries after it first went out, sent it back ratified and part of the Constitution. Now, members of Congress cannot raise their own pay unless they are willing to face the electorate first.

Today, Gregory Watson works part time as an aide to a Texas legislator. Watson's 'C' grade was never amended.


Amendment XXVII: No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.


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