Should members of Congress get an automatic annual pay increase, as the law currently prescribes, or should the law be changed?
Since 1989, House and Senate members are supposed to receive an automatic annual pay increase approximately adjusted for inflation. However, that bump doesn’t go into effect if Congress votes in a specific year to override and keep their own salaries unchanged.
Since 2009, Congress has done just that: overriding the scheduled increases to keep its pay level every single year. That was likely due to the institution’s record low approval ratings and a recognition of the corresponding public backlash a pay increase could create during a massive recession.
2019 potentially seemed different. House leadership from both parties recently agreed to a small pay raise of 2.6% as the economy had steadily improving for several years now. However, that provision was removed from a spending bill last week, following backlash from some House members.
What the bill does
The No Raise for Congress Act would end the practice of automatic annual pay increases for House and Senate members.
What this would actually do, in practice, is establish a de facto pay decrease in Congress, because the numerical salary would almost always remain the same even as inflation occurred.
If the bill passes, congressional pay could still potentially increase, but only if Congress actively voted to do so. That’s the opposite of the status quo, in which congressional pay automatically increases unless Congress votes not to do so.
What supporters say
Supporters say Congress’s performance hasn’t merited a pay raise in recent years, especially while millions of Americans themselves haven’t gotten a pay raise in years.
“Hardworking men and women across Upstate New York [his congressional district] don’t receive automatic pay raises each year and neither should members of Congress,” Rep. Brindisi said in a press release. “We successfully fought to prevent this year’s pay raise, but we need a permanent solution. Our bipartisan bill will end automatic pay raises once and for all.”
“With bipartisan support, we were able to force House leadership to freeze pay for Members of Congress. Gridlock on major issues must not be rewarded,” Rep. Fitzpatrick said in the same press release. “Members of Congress need a reality check, not a raise. This bill will stop the automatic pay raises for good.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that while Congress giving itself a pay raise may look bad, it’s actually necessary to ensure people of all income levels can serve in the body — plus it lessens the need for members to seek potentially corrupting outside sources for money.
“Voting against cost of living increases for members of Congress may sound nice, but doing so only increases pressure on them to keep dark money loopholes open,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14) wrote in a Twitter thread. “This makes campaign finance reform harder. _All _workers deserve cost of living increases, including minimum wage workers.”
“What this does is punish members who rely on a straight salary, and reward those who rely on money loopholes and other forms of self-dealing,” Ocasio-Cortez continued. “For example, it incentivizes the horrible kinds of legislative looting we saw in the GOP tax scam bill.”
“It’s not a fun or politically popular position to take. But consistency is important. _All _workers should get cost of living increases. That’s why minimum wage should be pegged to inflation, too. Voting against cost of living increases is one reason why dark money loopholes stay open.”
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted eight bipartisan House cosponsors: five Democrats and three Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in either the House Administration or House Oversight and Reform Committees.
Certainly the optics would be popular for such a bill, although it’s unclear whether this would pass, or whether the decade-long status quo of voting down scheduled pay raises would suffice for most Congress members as a method of preventing salary increases.