House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is actively talking to members of both parties, searching for enough support to get the first member pay raise in a decade across the finish line.
It’s a rare moment in which leaders from both parties in the chamber are at least open to an incendiary provision but face pushback from some rank-and-file members.
A large swath of House Democrats support the pay raise — a cost of living adjustment which would not go into effect until next year — but many of its vulnerable members who face tough re-elections next year aren’t on board. Several of the so-called majority makers teamed up with Republicans in a bipartisan group led by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican, to oppose the move.
Meanwhile, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy appeared open to the idea this week, saying it’s something “we should pause and look at.”
“I do not want Congress at the end of the day to only be a place where millionaires serve,” he said at a news conference Tuesday. “This should be a body of the people, and I think it’s something that should be looked at.”
That argument of leveling the playing field has also been voiced by some of the most progressive members of Congress, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Pramilia Jayapal, a Washington Democrat and the co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
“We have to make sure this place isn’t just filled with really, really wealthy people, and right now the fact is that there’s been no pay raise since 2009,” Jayapal said Wednesday.
The salary for a representative has been set at $174,000 per year since 2009. An increase for inflation is automatically set to kick in every year, but lawmakers have nixed it for the past decade, largely due to the optics of giving themselves a pay raise while the country was recovering from a recession. The increase would be $4,500, but wouldn’t set in until January 2020.
Supporters like Hoyer say it’s time to let the cost of living adjustment go through — not only for members juggling two residences but also for staff, whose salaries have been frozen as well. Hoyer told reporters Congress needs a better reputation for being a competitive employer that retains “the best and brightest.”
“And we get the best and brightest because they want to be here and they want to serve their country, but, you know, that only goes so far,” he added, pointing to their financial needs.
Supporters of the pay raise also point to the dozens of members that live in their offices due to surging costs of housing in Washington over the past decade.
“We’re virtually the only business in the world that asks you to be away from home three or four nights a week and doesn’t reimburse you for the cost of lodging or the cost of food,” said Democratic Rep. Don Beyer, who lives in the Virginia district he represents just outside of DC. “In any other business you have to do that. It’s really hard for an awful lot of the folks here to try to maintain two homes or one home and a half.”
The debate over the cost of living adjustment typically centers around a spending bill that funds the legislative branch, which Democrats were planning to bring to the floor as part of a current spending package. But they pulled out the legislative spending bill so Hoyer could have more time to sway members on both sides of the aisle.
If enough Republicans jump on board, the bill could still pass while letting some of the more vulnerable Democrats and Republicans vote against the bill to save face.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi emphasized the need for GOP buy-in when she was asked about the raises on Thursday.
“Whether that comes to be, I don’t know, it would have to be a bipartisan initiative if that were to be the case,” she said at her weekly news conference. Pelosi also highlighted the sentiment of those supporting the raise who say that without it only the very wealthy will be able to serve in Congress. But in an apparent acknowledgment to the optics of giving themselves a raise, she added that there’s “never a good time to bring up something like this.”
Rep. Jennifer Wexton, one of the Democratic freshmen who flipped a Republican seat in Northern Virginia, said members weren’t elected to give themselves a pay raise.
“We need to make sure the American people get a pay raise,” she told CNN.
Republican. Rep. Tom Reed, who co-chairs the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said the need for a pay raise is a “legitimate question to ask” but said Congress simply doesn’t deserve it yet. “We have to do some work here in DC before we can legitimately ask for that, so I don’t support doing that.”
Democratic Rep. Max Rose of New York expressed frustration that Congress is even debating the issue.
“I’m sick and tired of seeing people on both sides of the aisle grandstanding around this issue, which is less than a drop in the bucket for the American people in terms of our budget,” said the New York Democrat. “They’re grandstanding to make it seem like they’re fighting.”
“You want to fight for the American people, do something about health care costs, let’s do something about infrastructure, let’s do something about rampant corporate power,” he said. “That’s what I care about. I’m sick and tired of this crap.”