Lawmaker pay freeze extended in Senate Legislative Branch bill

Pay for lawmakers has decreased by around 15 percent compared to inflation and other factors since 2009

From left, Sens. John Kennedy, R-La., Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., prepare for a Senate Appropriations Committee markup on June 19, 2019. The committee advanced its 2020 Legislative Branch spending bill, which marks an increase of about $256 million over current levels. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced, as amended, a $5.09 billion fiscal 2020 Legislative Branch spending bill that would continue a pay freeze for members of Congress. The issue has proved troublesome in the House, where a spending bill approved by appropriators this summer with a cost-of-living adjustment has yet to be brought up on the floor.

The Senate version, approved by the panel 31-0, would mark an increase of about $256 million over current levels to fund the House, Senate and joint operations, including Capitol Police, the Government Accountability Office, and other offices.

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Of the total, Senate-only functions would be funded at $969.4 million, or $34.7 million more than current levels. About $1.5 billion would be for House-only spending.

Lawmaker pay was first frozen in 2009. House Democratic leadership in June had to pull their fiscal 2020 Legislative Branch bill from a broader appropriations package in part because of the heated backlash from Republicans and Democrats on the member pay increase the bill proposal.

Pay for lawmakers has decreased by around 15 percent compared to inflation and other factors since 2009, according to a May study from the Congressional Research Service. The House bill would have provided an increase of 2.6 percent or $4,500 starting January 2020.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in June he opposed a pay raise for lawmakers, as did Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala.

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., the ranking member on the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, underscored the importance of funding the Capitol Police, day care and intern compensation.

The Senate bill would give the Capitol Police $464.3 million, an increase of $8 million above the current year. The money is included to address security for members on and off of the Capitol complex.

“We increase our commitment to the work that the Capitol Police does on off-campus security, which is really important as the threats continue to mount to members,” Murphy said.

The Senate day care program is also set to get a boost.

“A million dollars to pre-fund Senate day care expansion — we’ve got 60 slots and 6,000 workers in the Senate. It just doesn’t make any sense,” Murphy said. “No major company would underfund day care the way that we do.”

Interns in the Senate are also slated to get what Murphy calls a modest income for working on Capitol Hill. A total of $6 million would be allotted for Senate intern pay. The House version includes $11 million for House interns.

“We continue our commitment to giving options in Senate offices to provide modest compensation to interns to make sure that we’re opening up the intern experience to kids of all backgrounds,” Murphy said.

Other funding levels include:

  • The Government Accountability Office would receive $639.4 million, $49.7 million over the 2019 level.
  • The Architect of the Capitol would get $585.8 million, an increase of $49.1 million. The House bill would allocate $615 million to the architect’s office, substantially more than the Senate.
  • The Library of Congress would get $735.8 million, an increase of $39.7 million.
  • The Congressional Budget Office would get $54.9 million, an increase of $4.2 million.
  • The Government Publishing Office would get $117 million, unchanged from current levels.

The bill was among five the Senate Appropriations panel advanced Thursday, the same day the chamber cleared for President Donald Trump a stopgap spending measure that would keep the government open until Nov. 21 mostly at current funding levels. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30 and none of Congress’ 12 annual spending bills have been cleared for his signature.

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