US Lawmakers Attempt Pay Bump After 15 Years of Frozen Salaries

(Bloomberg) -- US lawmakers haven’t had a pay raise in 15 years, and representatives from Republican firebrand Marjorie Taylor Greene to progressive Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez want to do something about it.

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It’s a politically risky move for lawmakers to vote just months before the November election to boost their own government salaries. Many vulnerable incumbents say it’s not worth the reward.

But other lawmakers, who will vote on moving forward with a pay raise later this week, say a salary bump after several years of high inflation is crucial to retaining and attracting economically diverse candidates.

It’s also more forthcoming than end-runs around the salary freeze. Lawmakers last year created a no-receipt-required reimbursement system to help pay for rent and other expenses, which 300 House members used to rack up $5.8 million in costs to taxpayers in its first year, the Washington Post reported.

While congressional leaders are paid extra, a rank-and-file House lawmaker makes $174,000 annually, nearly triple the $65,470 average pay for US workers. But it’s slipping below salaries for elite professions like lawyers and corporate chief executive officers and is less than half an average Wall Street salary.

“We have lost some really great members over this,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Tom Cole. “To me we ought to do what we did with the courts and others and hold the talent that we have.”

The Oklahoma Republican said any increase should match the raise slated for all federal workers next year.

A cost-of-living increase next January would result in a maximum 3.8% congressional pay raise of $6,600, bringing the standard salary to $180,600. That still pales in comparison to the $243,300 lawmakers would make this year if they received all the annual raises allowed under the law, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service estimates.

Lawmakers like Ocasio-Cortez and House Financial Services Chairman Patrick McHenry point to surging pay in other high-level professions and rising costs of living in Washington, DC, where the smallest apartments can easily exceed $2,000 a month.

Seven House members quit before the end of their terms in this Congress and another 26 are retiring while not seeking other public office. The level of departures is in line with past years but lawmakers are increasingly citing financial worries in deciding to depart.

McHenry discussed his own financial challenges when announcing his retirement.

“Most of us live on the salary. And then, you know, the very wealthy few end up dominating the news because of their personal stock trades, when most of us don’t have wealth,” the North Carolina Republican told The Dispatch earlier this year.

The powerful House Appropriations Committee will vote Thursday on the pay raise as part of a spending bill that will go to the House for a floor vote next month.

Opponents such as Minnesota Democrat Angie Craig are expected to try to amend the bill to block the pay raise at that time.

“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,” Craig wrote in a letter to congressional leaders this month.

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