Congress

Lawmaker pay freeze continues under proposed 2020 spending bill

Legislative Branch measure boosts money for member security, conventions, inauguration

Capitol Police would get a boost in funding for additional security for Congress under a year-end spending package that would avert a partial government shutdown. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats who wanted to approve a raise for lawmakers for the first time since 2009 will have to wait until the next appropriations cycle to deliver, as the final fiscal 2020 Legislative Branch spending draft, released Monday, keeps salaries stagnant. 

The Legislative Branch section of an eight-bill package, one of two sets of appropriations bills to fund the government through next September, provides $5.1 billion in total discretionary funding for congressional operations. That would be up from $4.8 billion in fiscal 2019 funding. 

It boosts spending for the Capitol Police, Architect of the Capitol, Library of Congress, the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office.

The pay raise was included by Democrats in their chamber’s version of the Legislative Branch bill. But that measure was pulled by leadership in June from a broader appropriations package because of the ardent opposition by Republicans and Democrats to the politically toxic proposal.

Lawmaker pay 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 in January.

The Republican-controlled Senate signaled earlier this year that lawmaker pay raises would be a tough sell for them. 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.

Friday marks the deadline when a stopgap funding resolution expires and Congress plans to leave for the holiday recess. The House could begin debating the spending measures on the floor as early as Tuesday.

Under the draft bill released by House and Senate appropriations leaders, the Capitol Police will get $464.3 million, an $8 million increase from the previous year that will help Congress’ police force address an increase in threats against members of Congress.

Police Chief Steven Sund testified before the House Administration Committee this past summer that threats against members were on pace to exceed last year. This money will also be used to address security concerns on and off the Capitol campus.

The funding will also cover costs association with the 2020 presidential nominating conventions and to prepare for the 2021 presidential inauguration.

The Architect of the Capitol, which is the agency tasked with overseeing maintenance and renovations of the Capitol complex, will get $695.9 million, which was $37.8 million below the fiscal 2019 enacted level.

A major renovation project in the Cannon House Office Building has been experiencing serious obstacles. The Cannon project could climb more than $100 million over budget, a process that has, in part, been delayed by the discovery of hazardous materials and a fluid list of changes requested by the Architect of the Capitol that deviates from the original plan.

In response to a March 2019 Architect of the Capitol inspector general report that disclosed instances of sexual harassment, training shortcomings and mismanagement in tracking such complaints, the funding bill directs the office to report to Congress the status of the inquiries listed in the report.

This includes a mandate to detail the timeline for implementing and revising internal policies related to harassment and discrimination.

Separately, the Library of Congress would get $725.3 million, an increase of $29.2 million.

The Government Publishing Office, which prints passports and other official documents, will see funding unchanged at $117 million.

The bill prohibits any funds from being used to acquire telecommunications equipment produced by Huawei Technologies Company, ZTE Corporation, or a high-impact or moderate-impact information system. The measure also includes a provision that calls for legislative branch agencies that contract with food service providers to eliminate or reduce plastic waste, “including waste from plastic straws.”

The Government Accountability Office would receive $630 million, $40.3 million over the 2019 level.

The Congressional Budget Office would get $54.9 million, an increase of $4.2 million.

In language included in the overall package, Senate leaders would be able to each designate two employees of their leadership offices to solicit and distribute campaign funds.

Each Senate office is permitted to have three staffers that can partake in the political activities, but under current Senate rules only one of those three people can be on a leadership office payroll.

The change would come as McConnell is up for reelection in 2020.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the Architect of the Capitol’s fiscal 2020 funding compared to the 2019 level. Katherine Tully-McManus and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report. 

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