WASHINGTON—House Democratic leaders are apparently supporting a low-key move to give a $4,500 cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) to senators and representatives, but Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) announced a bill on June 5 that bars fatter paychecks until Congress reduces the federal deficit to zero.
In addition to preventing higher pay, the freshman representative’s “Clean Up Congress Act” would also require congressmen on official business to fly at the lowest available commercial rate, and permanently bans departing members from becoming lobbyists.
“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,” Axne told reporters during a telephone conference call.
“And let me tell you, in these last five months, I’ve certainly seen many opportunities for us to clean up waste out here,” she said. “Until we get the dysfunction under control and our deficit under control and down to zero, then congresspeople don’t deserve a raise.”
Asked by The Epoch Times if she would accept or refuse the pay raise, Axne said, “From what I know, this is going to be included in a much larger appropriations bill, certainly to oversee the legislative branch, and I am going to vote for the bill because it’s going to be incredibly comprehensive.”
Axne was referring to the annual “official allowance” appropriation from which members pay their staffs, cover the costs operating their offices, and pay for official travel and other expenses.
Pressed on whether she would accept or refuse the increased pay, Axne said, “As I did during the government shutdown, and I requested that my pay be withheld, I would refuse this increase as well.”
The Iowa freshman said, in response to a reporter from The Hill, “We have been working on this for a few weeks now, and as a matter of fact, I did not know about the pay increase prior to working on this, so I have been addressing this since prior to that.”
She claimed to have “bipartisan support for this bill,” but didn’t name any co-sponsors. “I know there will be some pushback, obviously, when you are talking about other peoples’ pay and some of the perks maybe that they have with their job, there are people that don’t want you to touch it.”
There is sufficient support from Democrats and Republicans, she said, “from people who want to do the right thing and who understand that we have to first and foremost hold Congress accountable to being fiscally responsible and accountable to taxpayers on how we are spending their money.”
Congressional salaries have been frozen at $174,000 annually since 2009, when Democratic leaders, who then controlled both legislative chambers, suspended the COLAs pending the 2010 election.
“There is strong bipartisan support for these modest inflation adjustments,” a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee told Politico.
The median annual household income in the United States in 2017, the latest available year, was $61,372 in 2017, the highest annual figure since the government began tabulating it, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Axne’s proposed lobbying ban follows an unexpected alliance on May 30 between Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to support legislation providing a lifetime ban on lobbying by former members.
The current push in Congress for a lobbying ban isn’t new, but previous efforts have consistently failed, mainly due to concerns about not violating the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of petitioning the government for redress.
Axne acknowledged the obstacle, but said: “Any time you try to push forward an agenda, no matter if it’s in government or any other walk of life, you are going to be met with resistance for multiple reasons.
“But if it’s truly about doing the right thing, then we’ll find an opportunity to cut through that and make sure that it happens. There is just way too much external influence by outside entities in politics these days.”
Asked if a ban on lobbying by former members of Congress would create a precedent for banning political expression by other classes of people, Axne said, “I’m not worried about that. I think that if that time comes where it does become an issue, then we’ll have to work through it.”
She added, “I’ve got pretty sharp elbows when it comes to doing the right thing.”
In a related development on June 5, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) wrote on Twitter, “Instead of solving real issues for Americans, Democrats are focused on raising their own pay.
“They want MORE pay while proposing radical ideas (Green New Deal & Medicare-for-All) that will force Americans to get paid LESS.”
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