Bipartisanship: Congress may yet come together for ... pay raises

If you’ve missed the traditional comity of Congresses long past, the Associated Press has some good news for you. Apparently, Democrats and Republicans can still work together for the common good … their common good, that is. A new bipartisan effort has begun to allow cost-of-living increases to Congressional pay, and the only thing it requires is that none of us notice.

Mum’s the word!

Some senior House lawmakers, frustrated by a decade of frozen congressional salaries, are quietly exploring whether to accept an annual pay raise that they’ve shunned since Barack Obama was first president.

It’s a longshot at best, requiring comity that’s in short supply in a Capitol riven with partisanship.

More than two-thirds of House members have never gotten a pay raise as Congress has voted each year since 2009 to reject an annual cost-of-living adjustment that’s due them under a 30-year-old reform measure. The optics for Democrats of restoring the COLA after Republican leaders killed it each year for eight years running are bad politically.

Gee … ya think? That would be true even under normal circumstances, and these are definitely not normal days in Congress. So far, the only efforts being made at governance by the new House Democratic majority have been passing bills that didn’t stand a chance of getting a vote in the Senate and scaling up massive investigations into Donald Trump even after Robert Mueller’s investigation ended up nowhere. Instead of looking for ways to work with Republicans on immigration reform and some small amount of common ground on health care, Nancy Pelosi and her caucus are busy trying to figure out how many contempt citations they can pass in the next few months.

Voters not only could object to pay raises — they could object to paying Congress at all.

Those advocating for increases argue that the cost of living in the Beltway makes public service almost economically impossible:

Still, housing costs in the Washington area are skyrocketing — most lawmakers maintain two homes — and the annual salary of $174,000 doesn’t go so far in the face of 10 years of inflation, not to speak of soaring college tuition and other costs. Concern is rising that some members are struggling to keep up. Had members taken the pay raises over the past decade, salaries would be in the range of $208,000 or so.

Inflation has been relatively mild over the last ten years. The salary for a House member is still more than three times the median household income in the US ($57,000 in 2017, according to Census data). In fact, between 2010 and 2017,  median household income only rose $6,000 a year, not the $34,000 which members of Congress would have gotten had they not rejected the annual pay hikes. And if the cost of living keeps going up — especially in Congress’ own back yard — shouldn’t legislators be looking for solutions to that issue?

Perhaps if Congress performed its duties better, taxpayers might not resent pay hikes enough to make it cost incumbents politically. These days, however, you’d be hard pressed to find a single American who would call the lack of pay increases on Capitol Hill a problem, let alone one that requires priority treatment.

Addendum: We might be better off building dormitories for members of Congress. It would be cheaper in the long run than continuously escalating salaries to address housing costs that Congress can’t contain.

Update: Scott Rasmussen polled on this question, and the results are … brutal:

Seventy-three percent (73%) of voters believe that Members of Congress are overpaid. A national survey found that 5% hold the opposite view and believe that the legislators are underpaid. Twenty-two percent (22%) say their pay is about right.

Half (50%) of those who believe the legislators deserve more pay underestimate how much they are currently being paid.

Have fun storming that castle, Congress!