There’s at least one thing that GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy agrees on with socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez … that is, they both think they and their fellow legislators deserve a pay raise.
McCarthy’s rationale for endorsing a pay hike for Congress is that, without an increase in salary, only the wealthy will be able to afford to serve.
“When you talk this subject about COLA, a cost-of-living increase, it does invoke an emotion, kind of an impulsive emotion,” the highest-ranking Republican in the House said. “I think it’s one that we should pause and look at. It’s been more than 10 years in the process. The current study says that pay has decreased by 15%. I do not want Congress at the end of the day to only be a place that millionaires serve. This should be a body of the people.”
Congress has declined to allow potential pay raises on their own behalf since 2009, under a law originally passed in 1989. Members make a minimum of $174,000 annually. Lawmakers are scheduled to receive a $4500 raise in January unless they vote to hold the line with a pay freeze that has been in place for the last 10 years.
It’s a politically sensitive topic that would require both sides of the aisle to unite behind if it is to get done. Otherwise, one party would have a strong political weapon with which to bludgeon the other.
A vote is expected to be scheduled sometime this year.
“I hope we pass it so that members can have the ability to not live in their offices,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on Tuesday. He indicated that there are some representatives who sleep in their offices due to expensive D.C. area rents. “We don’t want to have only rich people here. You know, we want this to be the people’s House, and representative of the people.”
Proponents for a pay increase agree that on the surface, the idea of voting themselves more money is a difficult sell back home to their constituents. But many also say it would help them retain their senior employees, since staff are prevented from being paid more than their bosses. As a result, better paying lobbying jobs lure those staff members away, keeping turnover rates high in the Capitol.
Freshman Democrat Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon told The Hill, “I’m brand new. I’m very happy to have a salary from Congress.” But she indicated there is a problem in finding and keeping good people on staff. “I guess if that’s what it’s going to take,” referring to a congressional pay increase, “then maybe we do need to do it.”
“We said essentially that we’re all in this together. We all know we need it. So, let’s stand by each other and do this as one. And it worked,” former Rep. Victor Fazio (D-Calif.) said, referring to the 1989 law that allowed for cost of living increases. “You gotta get back to that.”
Republican Rep. Tom Reed pointed at the lack of trust and cooperation between congressional Republicans and Democrats, admitting that’s why it’s difficult for those elected to the body to make a concerted case for a pay raise. “That is yet another example of the complete failure of trust in this town,” he said. “To me, that’s just a natural consequence of partisan politics that has evolved to this situation.”
“Both sides have to lay down their arms and look at this in the context of in the private sector and in a lot of the public sector, cost of living increases are standard practice for good reason,” said first-term Democrat Rep. Dean Phillips.
That said, Phillips added that he wouldn’t take a pay increase for himself if it passed.
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