Congressional Pay Raise Headed for Senate-House Deadlock

June 23, 2019 Updated: June 24, 2019

WASHINGTON—Legislation that will clear members of Congress to receive a $4,500 cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) pay raise appears to be headed for a vote this week in the House of Representatives, but the Senate is going in the opposite direction.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) expects the lower chamber to vote on the legislative funding proposal that doesn’t include specific language rejecting the COLA.

Under a 2009 law, senators and representatives—who are currently paid $174,000 or more—automatically get annual COLAs, unless they pass legislation explicitly rejecting the increased pay. The $4,500 represents a 2.6 percent pay increase.

The COLA has been rejected every year since 2009, but both Hoyer and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said June 20 they support allowing the increase to take effect in 2020.

Hoyer told Roll Call the legislative funding bill, minus the COLA rejection language, that House leaders pulled from a vote earlier this month will be back on the floor June 25 or June 26.

Asked if he expects the measure to be approved, Hoyer said, “We’ll see. But I feel very strongly that’s the correct policy.” McCarthy told Roll Call the same day that he doesn’t “believe Congress should only be a place for millionaires.”

McCarthy also noted, however, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opposes the COLA and “that does complicate the path for this to become law.”

Pay Raise Opposition

Bolstering Senate opposition was a June 19 vote by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs to adopt an anti-pay-raise measure co-sponsored by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.).

The Scott-Braun “No Budget, No Pay Act” was approved along with a technical amendment introduced by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on a 9–5 roll call vote.

Several Republican members of the panel, including committee chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), voted against the Scott-Braun-Sinema measure, which would require congressional pay to be placed in escrow and withheld whenever Congress fails to fund the government.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he opposed the proposal because “it creates a two-tiered system where the wealthy members won’t be affected at all … where the wealthy people will vote however they want to and you’ll put extra pressure on those who are middle class” to support raises.

Paul also said the proposal would unfairly hurt rank-and-file members. Most of the disagreements that result in government shutdowns, he said, are resolved by the president and congressional leaders, leaving rank-and-file members with only up-or-down votes on typically huge bills with no amendments allowed.

“I don’t think anybody deserves not to be paid when they are showing up to work and trying to do what they are doing,” Paul said.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) also voted against the proposal, saying: “I’m very concerned for the precedent we set by not paying members of Congress for votes they might take. I just think we have to ask ourselves: Do we want to start using pay to put pressure on people to vote a certain way and having people make their decisions in part on getting more money for themselves?”

After the vote, Scott issued a statement, saying: “If members of Congress cannot work together to pass a budget, they should not be getting paid. It’s pretty simple. If we can’t do our jobs, we shouldn’t get a taxpayer-funded salary.”

Scott said his proposal with Braun “requires Congress to pass an annual budget and meet appropriations bill deadlines, or forgo their own salaries until the job is done.”

He also encouraged “all senators who voted no today to re-consider when this legislation gets to the floor. There is no reason members of Congress should be held to a different standard than American families and businesses across the nation. Accountability shouldn’t be controversial.”

Braun added, “In the real world, nobody gets rewarded for not doing their jobs, and today’s victory for ‘No Budget, No Pay’ is a big step toward pulling Washington out of la-la land and getting Congress working for the American people again.”

Despite Hoyer’s determination, there is no guarantee of success because there is bipartisan opposition in the House.

Perhaps the most notable is Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa), who told The Epoch Times June 6 that she won’t accept the COLA if it is approved.

“My colleagues, over the past several days, have promoted a pay raise for congress-people, but as I look at this, I see a Congress that is dysfunctional … As I did during the government shutdown, and I requested that my pay be withheld, I would refuse this increase as well,” she said.

The Iowa Democrat introduced legislation that will prevent higher pay, require congressmen on official business to fly at the lowest available commercial rate, and permanently ban departing members from becoming lobbyists.