House panel blocks lawmakers from getting pay raises



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Legislation that could have ended a years-long freeze on pay raises for lawmakers was changed to uphold the pause as it passed out of committee on Thursday.

The House Appropriations Committee sent the annual spending bill to fund the legislative branch to the floor for consideration with a 33-24 vote. The House is expected to take up the bill in July, as leaders press on with an aggressive schedule to pass all 12 funding bills before August recess.

Notably absent from the initial version of the measure was language that kept intact a 15-year freeze on cost of living adjustments for congressional members.

However, just before it passed out of committee on Thursday evening, lawmakers voted to add back in language maintaining the pause. But not without opposition from both sides of the aisle.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the former House majority leader, called the matter “a serious issue as to whether or not the only people that could serve here are rich people.”

“I know this is politically controversial, and I know members on my side and members on your side will demagogue this issue, and that’s unfortunate, because it’s like cutting off our nose to spite our face,” he said during the hearing. 

He also agreed with comments made during the hearing moments before by Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), member of the House Freedom Caucus who said an amendment adopted keeping intact the pay freeze had “constitutional problems.”

“This [cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA)] was to be capped at the annual percentage of every other federal employee would receive,” he said. “In exchange for the annual COLA, all members of Congress were prohibited or severely limited from earning additional outside income, like speaking fees or other fees that could easily be translated into pay-for-play arrangements, resulting in potentially ten of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, in additional income, especially for more popular or more powerful members.”

“I certainly agree with the prohibition of this type of outside income for members of Congress, and I disagree with the manner in which the manager’s amendment addresses the COLA,” he said. “If Congress wants to eliminate the annual COLA, Congress can certainly do so. But this cannot be done through the appropriations process and remain in compliance with the Constitution.”

Rank-and-file members of Congress received a 2.8 percent pay increase in January 2009 and have since earned $174,000 a year. Congressional leaders receive higher salaries, with the Speaker of House earning the most, at $223,500. 

While federal salaries for Congress are set to increase annually according to the 1989 Ethics Reform Act, members’ pay has remained unchanged for over a decade because of legislation. 

A report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) estimates that had pay increases taken effect, members of Congress would have received an annual salary upwards of $200,000 in 2023.

However, others have come out strongly against a potential pay bump.

In a letter earlier this month, Reps. Angie Craig (D-Minn.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) and Eric Sorensen (D-Ill.) called for funding legislation for fiscal 2025 to block pay raises for members of Congress.

“Now is the time to focus on bipartisan solutions which invest in hardworking Americans. We need to enact legislation that focuses on the issues our constituents are facing – rising costs at the grocery store and pump, addressing security at the Southern border and ensuring economic opportunity for farmers and small businesses in our districts,” the members wrote. 

“Americans deserve to know that their Members of Congress are fighting for them, to lower costs for working families – not to increase our own paychecks.”

All three Democrats are listed on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of frontline members running in competitive races this year.

Some conservatives have also come out against the push, including Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a prominent hardliner, and Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.). 

“What I ran on is what I knew I was gonna make,” Burchett told The Hill. “As my banker constantly reminds me, I am the brokest member of Congress from Tennessee and the most honest so you know, that’s where I’m at.”

“And I’d probably just suck it up and stay where we’re at,” he said. 

Others say doing away with the pay freeze is important for members who don’t come from wealth.

“I think people back home would say, ‘Oh, everybody’s up. They’re just getting richer. You get your salary for life.’ That’s actually not true,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, told The Hill. 

“If you don’t address member salaries, what you’re going to end up, frankly, is you’re gonna have less diversity of various points on the economic ladder of members,” he said, adding “it makes it harder for members who are not rich to be here because they have to maintain a home back home and maintain a home here and pay for all their travel and do all that other stuff.”

Some Democrats have also made a similar case in pushing for the effort amid high inflation. 

“Inflation driven by corporate greed definitely adds to it,” Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) said, while noting “the cost of housing, and then the barriers to entry on the housing.”

“Hopefully, it will help us have more working families represented here in Congress as well,” Frost said on Wednesday. 

Frost, who garnered national attention in 2022 upon becoming the first Generation Z member to win election to Congress, has spoken publicly about being denied an apartment in Washington, D.C., due to “really bad” credit. 

Frost said at the time that his credit was poor because he “ran up a lot of debt running for Congress for a year and a half.”

“This ain’t meant for people who don’t already have money,” he tweeted then.

The push comes as both chambers are already running behind in their annual funding work, and members on both sides are pushing for a stopgap to keep the government funded beyond the September shutdown deadline and the November elections – a move that could also shield vulnerable members of all stripes from potentially tough votes before constituents hit the ballot box.

Lawmakers have unsuccessfully made similar efforts in recent years to address the pay freeze, including earlier this year, when the issue emerged as a sticking point as leaders crafted the fiscal year 2024 funding bills. 

Other members have argued for the issue to be handled in the courts, as a bipartisan group of current and former lawmakers pursue a legal challenge arguing the freeze is unconstitutional.



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