Members’ COLA Overcomes Matheson’s Efforts Again

Posted September 14, 2004 at 6:15pm

The House soundly defeated an effort to block lawmakers’ annual cost-of-living adjustment Tuesday evening, though several Members in competitive races voted in favor of scuttling the raise.

For the fourth consecutive year, the fight to block the COLA was led by Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), who was the only Member to speak in favor of the move on the House floor.

“Now is not the time for Members of Congress to be voting themselves a pay raise,” Matheson said. “We need to show the American people that we are willing to make sacrifices.”

The size of the annual COLA is based on a complicated statistical formula. This year’s exact raise has not yet been determined, but it is expected to be roughly 2.5 percent. That would bring rank-and-file Members’ pay to just more than $162,000.

As in past years, the actual roll call was not a straightforward question on the COLA, but rather an obscure procedural vote.

Under permanent law, Members receive a raise every year unless Congress specifically passes legislation to block it. Traditionally, such an effort comes in the form of an amendment to the Transportation, Treasury and independent agencies spending bill.

The rule governing debate for that measure did not allow Matheson a vote on such an amendment this year, so the pay raise decision came in the form of a vote on the previous question before a vote on the rule itself. The tally on the previous question was 235-170, meaning that 235 Members voted in favor of preventing Matheson from bringing his amendment to the floor.

Though the Utah lawmaker’s effort was easily defeated, many lawmakers like Matheson who face tough competition in November voted with him to block the COLA.

The list of “no” votes included endangered incumbents such as Reps. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.), Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), Max Burns (R-Ga.), Chet Edwards (D-Texas), Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), Max Sandlin (D-Texas), Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), as well as a handful of Senate candidates: Reps. Brad Carson (D-Okla.), Chris John (D-La.) and David Vitter (R-La.).

While the COLA debate is still seen by some candidates as a potent political issue, there has been no serious effort to block it for the past several years.

“I think people can go home now and say [the COLA] is built into the system,” said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who voted with Matheson.

Though he believes the subject has grown less controversial, LaHood said the COLA vote still matters.

“I do think this will be an issue in some campaigns,” he said.