Congressional pay raise amendments roil House

Five House lawmakers have offered amendments that would bar funding for a cost of living increase for members of Congress

House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., will navigate the proposals to keep congressional pay stagnant. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A potential pay raise for Congress is stirring up debate on Capitol Hill, and with funding for the Legislative Branch on deck for floor action next week, at least four proposals to keep lawmaker pay frozen are on the table.

Five House lawmakers have offered amendments that would bar funding for a cost of living increase for members of Congress. The three Republicans and two Democrats are raising opposition to House appropriators excluding language barring cost-of-living raises in both the Financial Services and Legislative Branch fiscal 2020 spending bills.

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.

Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick has teamed up with Maine Democrat Jared Golden to offer the only bipartisan amendment that would continue the pay freeze. Jack Bergman, R-Mich., Scott Perry, R-Pa., have offered their own proposals. South Carolina Democrat Joe Cunningham also offered a standalone amendment to freeze lawmaker salaries, although he hasn’t yet felt any inflationary pinch, because he’s in his first term.

Earlier this week, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer voiced his support for a potential pay raise for lawmakers, citing the fact that staff salaries on Capitol Hill cannot exceed lawmaker pay.

Pay raises for lawmakers is a politically tenuous issue, and any effort to move forward with a pay increase is likely to be blocked in the Republican-held Senate.

The proposals will be under consideration in the House Rules Committee next week. But the panel will decide whether or not any of the amendments will be on the floor for consideration by the full House.

There’s not much incentive for the Rules Committee, whose leaders are aligned with Hoyer and other House Democratic leadership, to make a pay freeze amendment in order, which would force members of both parties to take a tough vote on a politically unpopular issue.

Brendan Buck, former spokesperson for onetime Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., tweeted his support for a pay raise Friday.

“Congressional member and staff pay should be increased. I know that sounds bad, and makes for bad politics, but it’s just true. No, current member pay is by no means paltry, but it is too low, and it’s having a negative effect on Congress,” said Buck.

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