House Dems move to give lawmakers a pay increase

Greg Nash

House Democrats will move forward with legislation to give members of Congress their first pay bump in a decade.

The House is expected to vote next week on a $1 trillion spending package that includes funding for annual legislative branch operations. That measure does not include language in effect since 2010 that prevented members of Congress from receiving an annual cost-of-living salary increase.

The House Appropriations Committee also unveiled an annual spending bill this week for financial services, executive branch and general government operations that similarly does not include the language to block a cost-of-living increase.

“An automatic cost of living adjustment for members of Congress is already included in federal law. There is strong bipartisan support for these modest inflation adjustments, and the Appropriations Committee is not including a provision to block the [cost-of-living adjustment] in fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills,” House Appropriations Committee spokesman Evan Hollander said.

“If members want to alter or eliminate the COLA, they should do so through the authorizing process — not appropriations bills,” Hollander said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has advocated to allow lawmakers to get a cost-of-living increase to ensure that Congress isn’t limited to independently wealthy people who can afford the cost of two residences in their districts and Washington, where cost of living is high.

Rank-and-file members of Congress earn $174,000 annually, while members of leadership earn more. The Speaker makes the highest salary at $223,500 while the majority and minority leaders earn $193,400.

The Congressional Research Service estimated that the 2018 salary level for rank-and-file members of Congress would be $208,000 if they had received the annual cost-of-living increases.

The maximum lawmaker pay adjustment for January 2020, as established under a 1989 ethics law, is 2.6 percent, or $4,500. House Democrats have also proposed giving federal workers a 3.1 percent pay raise.

Still, House Democrats’ effort is likely to run into opposition in the GOP-controlled Senate.

“Instead of writing a budget or reforming our bankrupt entitlement programs, House Democrats are angling for a pay raise. These jokers couldn’t hold down a summer job at Dairy Queen pulling this kinda crap,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said in a statement on Tuesday.

Hoyer defended the move on Tuesday, arguing that keeping lawmakers’ salaries low affects staff retention as well.

“You know, the salary that we receive is a decent salary, there’s no doubt about that. But, one problem is under the law, our employees are capped. They can’t go above members of Congress, which you can understand,” Hoyer told reporters.

Lawmakers decided to cap their pay in 2009 amid the recession, but never reversed course since then. Hoyer suggested there’s never an ideal time to raise lawmaker pay, but noted the economy has improved.

“I think when times are bad, then members of Congress ought to as well. But, in times when it’s not, I think of cost of living adjustment…was a reasonable thing to do,” Hoyer said.

But he acknowledged: “I don’t think there’s ever a time when people think it’s very good politically to do.”

Lawmakers have also been discussed the issue of congressional pay before the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, which was created in January to provide recommendations on issues that include staff retention and compensation.

Former members of Congress urged the select committee during a hearing last month to look for ways to improve staff and member compensation.

They recalled how lawmakers in the past would agree on a bipartisan basis to not politicize raising their pay.

Former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 1996 and 1998 cycles, said lawmakers agreed not to attack each other over pay increases.

“We would not permit our candidates running against an incumbent to attack that incumbent on the basis of his vote on the issue of pay,” Frost said.

Tags Ben Sasse Steny Hoyer

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