Does Congress deserve a raise?

Congress, in a vanishingly rare display of self-awareness, has been blocking their own automatic cost of living pay raises since the 2010 budget was passed. Now, clearly feeling that they’ve upped their game and been doing a bang-up job, some Democrats preparing the next budget proposal are moving to lift those restrictions and give themselves a raise. Try not to strain anything as you all rise to your feet to give this fabulous proposal a standing ovation. (Politico)

House spending leaders want to break a decadelong pay freeze and give members of Congress a cost-of-living bump that could pad their salaries with an extra $4,500 next year.

Congressional salaries have been frozen at about $174,000 since 2009, when Democrats controlled Congress and decided to suspend automatic cost-of-living increases while heading into the 2010 election year.

Now, House Democrats say they are moving forward with fiscal 2020 funding bills that won’t block those pay increases, which are guaranteed by a 1989 federal ethics law.

If we were looking at this question in a vacuum, the idea of this sort of pay bump probably wouldn’t be out of line. After all, it’s been nearly ten years since they’ve had a raise and the amount in question for most of the House members works out to a 2.5% increase. Compared to your average worker in the private sector, an increase of that size once per decade is fairly paltry.

But pay raises generally involve a more nuanced analysis than that. First, there’s the question of whether or not the position merits lofty pay to begin with. Most of these folks are getting $174K per year. The U.S Bureau of the Census puts the annual median personal income at just over $31K while the median household income is around $57K. Of course, that includes a lot of people working in very low skill jobs that don’t require much in the way of qualifications. What are the qualifications to be a member of Congress? Aside from some minimum age, residency and citizenship status requirements… pretty much nothing beyond the ability to convince a bunch of people to vote for you. And you don’t go to Congress to get rich, at least in theory. You go to serve.

Perhaps you’re concerned over all the expenses the members must run into. Don’t be. You can read an interesting list of many of the benefits they receive at this link. There are all sorts of expense accounts they dip into to do everything from decorating their offices to hiring staff. They get a very nice tax deduction to help cover the cost of maintaining a home in DC. Did you know that almost all of their airline flights between Washington and their home states are free? (Well… by “free” I obviously mean that you’re paying for it.)

Finally, there’s the question of job performance. After all, you are their bosses and it’s your money being used to pay them. Do they deserve a raise? In 2017, Politifact was prompted to fact check a claim that Congress was literally less popular than hemorrhoids, Nickelback, traffic jams, root canals, colonoscopies, and herpes. (Spoiler alert: They rated the claim “mostly true.”)

So should Congress start receiving regular raises again? You be the judge and let them know. After all, as I mentioned above, they technically work for you.