Democrats held a closed-door meeting Monday night and came out of it with an agreement to drop a provision for a Congressional pay raise from this week’s funding bill. It turns out that some freshmen members in competitive districts don’t want the burden of justifying pay raises.
Who can blame them? What exactly has Congress done lately that would bring applause from their constituents if they were given a cost of living pay raise that amounts to $4500.00 a year? The current salary for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate is $174,000.00, with senior leaders earning more. Members of Congress haven’t voted in favor of a cost of living pay raise in nine years.
The vulnerable freshmen are concerned about how it would look if they voted in favor of the pay raise and Republican members decided to not support it. A group of fifteen Democrat lawmakers united to push for freezing Congressional pay in the upcoming funding bill even though the increase quietly gained support from both Democrat and Republican leadership recently. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey said it needs more discussion.
Democrat Katie Hill from California said, “Nobody wants to vote to give themselves a raise. There’s nothing good about that.” Democrat political consultants advised members that a vote in favor of pay raises would come off as tone deaf to voters.
The potential vote set off Democratic political consultants who warned that if members were on the record supporting a pay raise for themselves it could be seen as tone deaf. One strategist called it “political suicide” for freshman Democrats in swing districts if they were made to take the vote.
During a monthly Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee held Monday with staffers who handle communications for the Frontline program, which protects members in battleground seats, a Democratic pollster who was invited to brief staffers on different issues, raised concerns about the pay increase.
Jefrey Pollock, the president of Global Strategy Group, told staffers and DCCC in the meeting that a vote to raise lawmaker’s pay was “problematic.”
“It feels like a potential ready-made attack ad,” Pollock told POLITICO Monday evening.
Last week House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer hosted a meeting with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, and Rep. Cedric Richmond. Both McCarthy and Scalise voiced concerns that only wealthy people run for office and some lawmakers are leaving Congress because of low pay. The meeting concluded with a mutual agreement to move forward and for neither party to attack the other on the idea. The NRCC, however, apparently didn’t get the memo about bi-partisan support for the pay raises because they sent out an email the next day blaming Democrats for the idea and labeling them “socialist elitists”.
“Apparently making $174,000 a year, which is more than three times the average American’s salary, just isn’t enough for these socialist elitists,” the email said.
Republican senators spoke out against the pay raises last week, too.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., spoke strongly against the pay raise on Tuesday. “These jokers couldn’t hold down a summer job at Dairy Queen pulling this kinda crap,” Sasse said.
“I think the American people would think that Congress ought to earn it first,” said Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Senate Appropriations chairman.
Amendments were written by Democrat members of the House to halt the increase. Other members pledged to donate their pay increases to charity if the measure passed. Voting on the spending bill will continue this week but the members have to specifically vote on freezing their pay or else the cost of living increase will automatically go into effect under current law. In May, the Congressional Research Service determined that adjusted for inflation, Congressional salaries have decreased 15% since 2009, when the last pay raise was passed. They should be making $210,900 if the cost of living formula was followed.
Most Americans look at the salaries and shake their heads. They see very generous salaries (and benefits) and inflated egos. The average taxpayer isn’t thinking about the costs that go into serving in Congress. They are thinking about supporting their own families on salaries that are considerably less than that of their representatives in Congress. Remember when the Tea Party swept in some new members of the House who decided to sleep in their offices rather than pay the high rent of an apartment in D.C.? Some legislators look at it as compensation for working in one of the most expensive areas in the country while supporting their families and home back in their district. It didn’t take long for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young Democrat Socialist to jump on the bandwagon for a pay raise. She blames the pay issue as the reason lawmakers leave public service and begin careers as lobbyists. “It’s not even like a raise”, you know.
“It’s not even like a raise,” Ocasio-Cortez said. She called opposition to the pay increase “superficial. … This is why there’s so much pressure to turn to lobbying firms and to cash in on member service after people leave, because precisely of this issue.”
Ocasio-Cortez added that both members of Congress and people making minimum wage deserve more money.
“It may be politically convenient, and it may make you look good in the short term for saying, ‘Oh we’re not voting for pay increases,’ but we should be fighting for pay increases for every American worker,” she said. “We should be fighting for a $15 minimum wage pegged to inflation so that everybody in the United States with a salary with a wage gets a cost of living increase. Members of Congress, retail workers, everybody should get cost of living increases to accommodate for the changes in our economy. And then when we don’t do that, it only increases the pressure on members to exploit loopholes like insider-trading loopholes, to make it on the back end.”
See, they don’t want to turn to a life of lobbying but they are just forced into it after they leave their political office. Oh brother. Given the track record of the current Congress, a pay raise is the last thing taxpayers think Congress deserves.