Rep. Alcee L. Hastings made the politically tone-deaf case for raising salaries for members of Congress Monday, pointing to the high cost of living in the District of Columbia.
“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, referring to the average member’s $174,000 annual salary. “We aren’t being paid properly,” he later added. The committee was considering the fiscal 2016 Legislative Branch appropriations bill, which sets the spending levels for Congress and legislative branch agencies. The bill includes a freeze on member pay, continuing one that has been in place since 2010 — and last year drew the ire of then-Rep. James P. Moran.
Griping about members of Congress being “underpaid” put the Virginia Democrat at the center of an ongoing debate about congressional pay. Moran 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.
Hastings, on the other hand, did not offer a specific amount that would constitute a raise. He said he did not file an amendment on the appropriations bill to raise member pay because he knew it would not pass. But he did say, “The least we could have done for ourselves is to give us a tax credit.”
Washington’s expensive housing market was chief among Hastings’ concerns. He said he moved into a $2,100-per-month apartment in Senate Square, a luxury complex in Northeast D.C., but was eventually priced out, as the rent continued to increase.
Like Moran, Hastings argued that a pay increase would help diversify the ranks of Congress. Hastings, the second poorest member of Congress according to CQ Roll Call’s most recent Wealth of Congress ranking, argued that failing to increase pay for members of Congress will render it an “elite institution” for wealthy individuals to serve in the next 10 years to 20 years.
“This institution is heading towards elitism,” Hastings said. “And that’s crazy.” He said that members with children come to realize "that on the salary that they make, they're going to be unable to send their children to college."
Hastings also argued for more money for staff salaries, noting that he recently lost three top staffers. He said the staffers did not say they left because of low salaries, “but I knew that to be the case.”
“I think it will ultimately lead to a serious morale problem,” Hastings said.
Related: Hoyer Supports Pay Raise for Lawmakers Moran: Members Can’t Afford to Live Decently in D.C. (Audio) Moran Predicts Two-Class System Arising in Congress Moran’s Housing Stipend Gets Some Sympathy on House Floor A Case for Moran: ‘Underpaid’ Is Accurate The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.