Congress

Senators (rich and not-so-rich) fight to keep lawmaker pay freeze

A bipartisan letter to appropriators follows weeks of strife on member pay

Sens. Rick Scott, R-Fla., (pictured) Kirsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Mike Braun, R-Ind., urge the extension of the lawmaker pay freeze. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A bipartisan group of Senators is speaking out against a pay raise for lawmakers.

The letter, cosigned by Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republicans Rick Scott of Florida and Mike Braun of Indiana, urges Legislative Branch appropriators to include language in their fiscal 2020 bill to extend the lawmaker pay freeze for another year.

“There is no reason members of Congress should receive an increase in their taxpayer-funded salaries, especially when there are so many issues important to American families that we should be focused on instead,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter comes after weeks of strife in the House, which resulted in that chamber’s Legislative Branch spending bill being pulled from a larger spending package because it lacked language to keep the longstanding lawmaker pay freeze in place.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week that the Senate would not approve a pay raise for lawmakers. But House Democrats are forging ahead, moving bills without the pay freeze language.

Scott, Braun and Sinema are an odd team of signatories, but not just because of their opposing party affiliations. Scott reported his net worth at $232 million at the end of 2017. Combined with the estimated holdings of his wife, Anne, he could be worth more than $500 million. Braun is also a multimillionaire.

Sinema, in contrast, has regularly ranked towards the bottom of Roll Call’s Wealth of Congress index. She reported zero assets in her most recent financial disclosure filing, and her student loan debt puts her net worth in negative figures. She lists between $15,001 and $50,000 in student loan debt, but does not report having a mortgage or car payment in her filing.

Earlier in the week, Sinema joked that she'd move in with another wealthy colleague, Utah Republican Mitt Romney, during a debate about withholding member’s pay until a budget deal can be reached. 

“It is not fair that government is held to a different standard than the rest of America, and we hope that all members can get behind this common-sense provision that saves tax dollars and puts hardworking American families first,” they wrote. 

Under a 1989 ethics law that set cost-of-living increases for lawmakers, members are slated to receive a 2.6 percent increase of $4,500 in January.

The salary for rank-and-file House and Senate lawmakers is $174,000, but those with official leadership titles and responsibilities make more. That level has been frozen since 2009, and each year appropriators have written into law that no pay raises would be given to members.

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