House Democrats Move to Increase Lawmaker Pay After Long Freeze

(Bloomberg) -- House Democrats are moving forward with a plan to give members of Congress their first pay increase in a decade.

The party has scheduled a vote on a $1 trillion spending package next week that includes the annual bill funding congressional operations. The measure leaves out language in effect since 2010 that would prevent lawmakers from receiving an annual cost-of-living increase to the $174,000 base salary for rank-and-file lawmakers.

This week Democrats unveiled a separate Financial Services spending bill that would also allow the increase to go forward.

The issue of pay raises for lawmakers is politically fraught, and any measure is likely to be blocked in the Republican-held Senate. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer acknowledged the opposition but said the freeze on increases made it hard to pay and retain staff.

House Democrats Move to Increase Lawmaker Pay After Long Freeze

“I don’t have any intention of recommending that we turn it off,” Hoyer said. "It’s not only having an effect on members of Congress, it’s compressing salary structure."

He said that while he supported congressional belt-tightening during the recession, the strong economy helps make the case for an increase now.

“I don’t think there’s ever a time when people think it’s very good politically to do," he said. "In this present climate, where the president says we have one of the best economies in the entire history of the world, I don’t know."

Under a formula established in a 1989 ethics law, lawmakers are slated to receive a 2.6 percent increase of $4,500 in January. Democrats have proposed giving federal workers a 3.1 percent raise next year.

Democrats point out that lawmakers would be making $208,000 per year by now if the decade of pay freezes had not been put into effect and that the median single family home price in Capitol Hill has increased 58 percent in the past decade.

Top congressional staff would also receive a raise under the plan since their pay cannot exceed the amount lawmakers receive.

Senate Opposition

The proposal may be dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate, however.

House Democrats Move to Increase Lawmaker Pay After Long Freeze

“I think the American people, if you polled them, would think that Congress ought to earn it first," Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, told reporters Monday.

"I doubt it’ll pass if we vote on it," said Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, the Republican chairman of the Appropriations Financial Services subcommittee.

Some Senate Democrats may not be on board either.

“I certainly haven’t had any discussion about it on the Senate side” said Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine.

The debate over lawmaker pay comes as the divided Congress is at loggerheads on major legislation addressing infrastructure, prescription drugs, immigration and the debt ceiling.

The 27th amendment to the Constitution forbids Congress from giving itself a raise beyond a cost-of-living increase before the next election.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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