House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer advocated for a cost-of-living pay raise to lawmaker salaries, which have been frozen for a decade.
Hoyer first introduced the idea earlier this year in March and revamped his call on Thursday. Before the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress in March, Hoyer said that “it is time to address the issue of member and staff pay and benefits.”
The committee, created in January, was tasked to help modernize the legislative branch. The panel aims to develop “recommendations on a variety of issues, including the congressional schedule, procedures, technology, and staff retention and compensation,” The Hill reported.
Hoyer claimed that raising congressional salaries would help ensure that people who are not wealthy can also serve in Congress. “The cost of rent, child care and other necessities has risen substantially in Washington and across the country in recent years, but members and staff pay and benefits have not kept pace with the private sector,” he said. “If we want to attract a more diverse group of Americans to run for office and work on Capitol Hill, we need to make it possible for them to do so.”
Hoyer also added that Congress should reflect “the nation’s diversity of economic backgrounds.”
Since 2009, when former President Barack Obama was in office, two-thirds of House members have never received a pay raise. As NBC News noted, Congress has voted each year to “reject an annual cost-of-living adjustment that’s due them under a 30-year-old reform measure.”
In a tweet published back in March, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claimed that members of Congress rejecting pay raises is a “superficial gesture” to create a “desperation” for staff to “flee to lobbyist jobs.” In a reply to that tweet, she also said that congressional members are not paid enough because their job requires “2 residences” and their job does not offer “tax deductions for work costs.”
Same w/ member pay.
Members are paid more than avg – but job reqs 2 residences + we can’t take tax deductions for work costs.
No one wants to be the one to bring up increases, so instead ppl take advantage of insider trading loopholes & don’t close them for the extra cash. ??♀️
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 13, 2019
Seth Frantzman, Op-Ed editor for The Jerusalem Post, argued that member pay still puts them in the “top 2% salary in the US” — even with the additional costs of two residences.
Isn’t member pay the top 2% salary in the US at $174,000? That’s a bit more than average. I guess most Americans would be ok with suffering through having two residences to be in the top 2% by salary?
— Seth Frantzman (@sfrantzman) March 14, 2019
A congressional pay raise will likely be a tough idea to sell, as Democratic and Republican lawmakers seemingly reflect similar opinions to Frantzman, opposing the campaign on the basis that they already earn too much and more urgent issues in Congress need to be addressed.
“A salary increase for us? It’s not very high on my radar and it’d be as popular as the plague,” Rep. Doug LaMalfa said. “It’d show kind of a disconnect with the people.”
Rep. Raúl Grijalva voiced similar concerns, saying that although he would “like a raise,” the thought of increasing salaries for congressional members is not a main issue.
“The issue at hand is, does the public support a raise? And in the middle of everything else we’re doing, should we utilize political capital on something like that? I would say no,” Grijalva added.
Additionally, Rep. Derek Kilmer, chairman of the select committee, said that other “low-hanging fruit” should be fixed in Congress, not pay raises.
“If I’m identifying levers that need to be pulled immediately, it’s more things like trying to have a more transparent process so that the American public knows what we’re doing,” Kilmer said. “It’s trying to have a smarter approach to deliberation so that there’s actually more problem-solving that happens in this place.”
Kilmer also noted that the committee will need two-thirds of its members to support Hoyer’s proposal before it can submitted to Congress. He does not anticipate that “tackling the issue of lawmaker pay” will be a “high priority.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell added that, instead of raising congressional member salaries, more focus should be placed on aiding congressional staff.
“Staff should not be enticed to leave for lobbyist pay, taking their expertise with them,” he said on the issue.
The Hill reported that “Rank-and-file members of Congress earn $174,000 annually,” while “The Speaker earns the most at $223,500” and “the majority and minority leaders in both chambers and the Senate president pro tempore earn $193,400.”
The Congressional Research Service estimated that if cost-of-living pay adjustments had been added to Congress members’ pay, their average salary for 2018 would have been around $208,000. The average American household income in 2017, according to the Census Bureau, was $61,372.
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