Fight over pay raise for Congress causes Democrats to pull spending bill

Rules chairman says measure could return as early as next week

House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., confirmed the plan is to remove the legislative branch title from the first bundle of fiscal 2020 appropriations measures. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats have decided to pull the fiscal 2020 Legislative Branch spending bill out of a package moving on the floor this week, averting a politically toxic debate over salaries for members of Congress.

“We could have done this in a bipartisan fashion, but people were demagogues on this. I don’t want to leave my members who are in tough districts subjected to that,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters Monday evening.

The Maryland lawmaker said he has “reason to believe” the Democrats are going to get an agreement.

The fiscal 2020 Legislative Branch bill did not include a provision to block automatic pay raises for members, something appropriators had done in previous bills going back to 2009. 

House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern confirmed the maneuver to delay floor action on the Legislative Branch bill, which means what had been a five-bill spending package is now a four-bill package after the portion that would fund Congress itself was pulled following the uproar over lawmaker pay.

An amendment, obtained by CQ Roll Call, would remove the Legislative Branch title of the bill in its entirety. McGovern told reporters that it’s possible the Legislative Branch portion will be added to the next fiscal 2020 spending package, which is expected to move next week.

The measure on the floor this week is highlighted by the Defense and Labor-HHS-Education bills, along with the measures that fund the Department of Energy and Army Corps of Engineers water projects, as well as the State Department.

New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi, who had offered an amendment to restore the congressional pay freeze, said he thinks leadership should separate the congressional pay question from the Legislative Branch bill and the spending bill packages and allow an up-or-down vote on it if they want to debate the matter. But the freshman lawmaker, who represents a district President Donald Trump carried by double digits in 2016, said he would personally oppose it.

“People in my district have not seen their wages go up in the last couple of decades. So members of Congress should not be talking about [a cost-of-living adjustment] or a pay raise at this point in time,” he said.

Louisiana Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, who supports a cost-of-living adjustment, said lawmakers at some point have to “man or woman up and do something” to address the fact that the pay is not adequate for some members to maintain dual residencies in Washington and their districts.

“I think there’s a big issue on Capitol Hill now. We are an elite institution, but we can’t be an institution of the elite,” he said. “And so if you look at freshmen, if you look at how many people are staying in their offices, there’s a real issue. And what people have done is just never wanted to face it. But part of it is letting the American people know that all these members maintain dual households. No one pays for the housing up here, no one pays for the food. And at some point with the cost of living in D.C., it’s an issue.”

Kellie Mejdrich and Chris Marquette contributed to this report. 

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