Appropriators showed some sympathy on the House floor Wednesday for Rep. James P. Moran's concern that members of Congress aren't paid well enough to afford Washington.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who holds the gavel on the panel that funds House operations, disagreed with Moran's proposed housing stipend, pointing out that it was out of order on a spending bill, but said repeatedly that he was "glad" the Virginia Democrat made the "important point."
Moran pitched an amendment that would have added about $2,800 to the average member’s $174,000 annual salary to help cover the high cost of living in the District and its immediate surrounding area. His framed his proposal, rejected by the House Rules Committee, as a way to diversify the ranks of Congress beyond independently wealthy members and those looking to cash out for fat private sector paychecks.
"I particularly share your concerns about the long-term character of the body, and I think those are well made," Cole said Wednesday. "I don't think we are in any danger right now of reaching that point, but I think my friend does point out a trend that could occur.
"I would also be quick to add there are about as many different styles of members as there are members themselves," Cole continued, saying that some serve only a few years in Congress, not because they want to cash out, but because they support term limits. "They just think that's the appropriate length of time, and that's a judgment that quite often shared by their constituents."
Moran, who is retiring at the end of this term after 23 years in Congress, has watched congressional pay decline by 20 percent in actual dollars during his tenure. This is the first time a congressional pay freeze has been included in the legislative branch appropriations bill, and Moran worries his colleagues are setting a "dangerous precedent."
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., also supported a salary increase and suggested that, with "at least 20 members of the House of Representatives living in their offices" and moderate annual rent in D.C. hovering around $27,000, now might be a good time to act.
"I don't think it unreasonable for us to not only have a discussion, but to do something about the fact that there are members that are here that can't afford that on the salary that they make," Hastings said on the floor Wednesday.
He suggested that the public might be more sympathetic to the idea if they could see that the representative they elect "cannot serve in a proper manner living in accommodations, that I think they deserve by getting to this high station."