‘The American people should know the members of Congress are underpaid…’
(Katherine Tully-McManus, CQ-Roll Call) As Congressional Democrats brace for another battle over denying President Donald Trump and his Republican allies additional funding for border security—while facing a national crisis that currently sees an estimated 4,500 illegal crossings per day—they had no problem filling their own pockets.
Partisan House Democrats are making moves to lift the pay freeze that lawmakers have been living under since 2010. But the top GOP Senate appropriator is not on board.
House appropriators released their Financial Services fiscal 2020 spending bill this week, striking a provision that blocked members or Congress from receiving an increase in pay. The salary for rank-and-file House and Senate lawmakers is $174,000, but those with official leadership titles and responsibilities make more.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday that he supports to move.
“That was taken to court; the court ruled it was not a pay raise, it was an adjustment on an annual basis for inflation,” he said during a pen and pad briefing with reporters.
Hoyer said that if it was, in fact a pay raise, it would not be able to take affect until the next Congress. Hoyer cited the cost of housing in the District of Columbia as well as provisions that prevent staff from earning more than a member as two reasons to allow the pay increase to move forward.
In 2018, the District’s median rent of $1,550 for a two-bedroom apartment was well above the national average of $1,180. And lawmakers must maintain a residence in their home state or district, which adds to housing costs.
“The salary that we receive is a decent salary—there’s no doubt about that—but one problem is that under the law, employees are capped. They can’t go above members of Congress. What you’ve got to understand … is that’s not only having an effect on members of Congress, it’s compressing salary structure,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer’s majority leader title brings his income up to $193,400.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., said Monday that he’s unlikely to support a provision in the House Appropriations Committee’s fiscal 2020 Financial Services spending bill that would provide a pay raise for members of Congress.
“I think the American people would think that Congress ought to earn it first,” Shelby said.
In November 2009, Democrats in the majority sensed the early swells of voter discontent that eventually grew into a GOP tidal wave, and decided it was politically prudent for lawmakers to agree to live through the 2010 election year without any change in their $174,000 annual salaries. That meant forgoing a $2,600 cost-of-living increase, based on a government calculation of wage gains in the private sector.
Since then, appropriators have written into law that no pay raises would be given to members. That has saved lawmakers from the dicey position of being asked to affirmatively vote to put more money in their own pockets.
But some members have spoken up in favor or a salary boost before now.
“The American people should know the members of Congress are underpaid,” former-Rep. Rep. James P. Moran told Roll Call in 2014. He pitched a “very modest” housing stipend to help cover the high cost of living in the District—$25 for each day the House is in session, or about $2,800 annually.
The next year, Florida Democrat Alcee L. Hastings also called for a boost.
“Members deserve to be paid, staff deserves to be paid and the cost of living here is causing serious problems for people who are not wealthy to serve in this institution,” the Florida Democrat said at a Rules Committee meeting. “We aren’t being paid properly,” he later added.
More recently, freshman Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought up the unpopularity of lawmaker raises, which she says incentivizes policy decisions that keep lobbying loopholes open.
“It is understandably unpopular to discuss giving Congress any raises or perks—& bc of that, there’s incentive to keep $ loopholes open,” she tweeted last week.
She also brought up the idea of providing dorms to lawmakers to make the steep housing costs more manageable.
“Some people have brought up Congressional dorms—certainly a possibility. This does happen informally; lots of members live in the same building/apt. Key to any solution (dorm, stipend, w/e) is compatibility w family/spouse- many work overtime, unrecognized, to support members,” she tweeted.
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