House Democrats pull legislation that would give lawmakers raise

THE HILL, CRISTINA MARCOS

House Democrats are pulling a spending bill that would give lawmakers a pay raise for the first time in a decade amid a backlash from swing-district freshmen.

The House is still slated to consider the rest of an appropriations package for other agencies, including the Defense and State departments, but not the section concerning legislative branch operations. 

A senior Democratic aide said that consideration of legislative branch spending will remain on hold as lawmakers discuss the pay raise issue. 

Close to a dozen vulnerable swing-district Democratic freshmen had submitted or co-sponsored amendments to block the pay raise, underscoring the sensitivity of the issue.

Members of Congress have had their pay frozen since 2009, but some lawmakers in recent years, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer(D-Md.), have advocated for returning to annual cost-of-living adjustments.

The House was set to vote on a spending package that did not include language to block an annual cost-of-living adjustment as laid out by a 1989 ethics law. Members are poised to receive a $4,500, or 2.6 percent, raise starting in January 2020 unless they move to prevent it as they have over the last decade.

Rank-and-file members of Congress currently earn $174,000 per year. Members of leadership earn more, with the Speaker making $223,500 annually and the House majority and minority leaders earning $193,400.

The Congressional Research Service estimated that if members of Congress had received annual cost-of-living increases, the 2019 salary would be $210,900.

Hoyer and other lawmakers in recent years have expressed concern that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for members of Congress to afford the cost of residences in both Washington and their districts, especially if they hail from a place where the cost of living is high.

Hoyer said Monday evening that he wants to craft a bipartisan agreement with Republicans so that it doesn’t become a campaign issue for vulnerable Democrats.

“I don’t want any of my members who are in tough districts subjected to that. So we’re not going to ask them to be subjected,” Hoyer told reporters. “We want to make sure we have a bipartisan agreement.”

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), who flipped a GOP-held seat last fall and was among the freshmen who signed on to an amendment to block the pay raise, expressed support for the delay. 

“I’d rather continue in suspend mode than distract from all of the other good pieces of work that we’re doing. And that when we are voting to raise wages, I hope that it’s for teachers and community leaders and minimum wage workers before we turn our attention toward ourselves,” Spanberger told The Hill.

But she acknowledged that lawmakers should find a way to separately address the issues caused by the stagnant salaries for members of Congress, including lawmakers sleeping in their offices to save money on rent and the difficulty with retaining staff who can’t make more than their bosses but can make more money in lobbying jobs or elsewhere.

“I think there’s a lot of larger conversation that we really need to be having, particularly our staff members and the issue of members sleeping on their couches (which I don’t do),” Spanberger said. “I don’t want it to be a distraction from really all of the good things that are going to be in the appropriations bills we’re voting on this week.”

Aside from Spanberger, other swing-district freshman Democrats who endorsed amendments to block the pay raise included Reps. Jared Golden (Maine), Jefferson Van Drew (N.J.), Elaine Luria (Va.), Andy Kim (N.J.), Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.), Angie Craig (Minn.), Joe Cunningham (S.C.) and Ben McAdams (Utah).

At least two freshmen, Reps. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) and Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), had pledged to turn down the pay raise for themselves if it went into effect. Axne introduced an ethics reform package last week that would prevent lawmakers from getting raises until the deficit is eliminated.

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