The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

No Congressional Pay Raise

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


One of the few remaining issues that enjoyed bipartisan support was finally broken up when Democrats used the annual “cost of living allowance” (COLA) increase to attack Republicans during the 2006 campaign.  Democrats also pledged not to pass a COLA until a new minimum wage bill was passed.

With the minimum wage bill being held up in the Senate and the February 15 COLA vote fast approaching, Democrats tried to reach an agreement to push back the COLA vote so they could still get the pay raise without breaking their campaign promise.  Republicans, miffed at the use of COLA during their losing campaign, blocked the congressional pay raise for the first time in almost a decade. 

As Minority Whip Roy Blunt, (R-Mo.) explained to the Associated Press: "The agreement always was that the parties would not use the COLA issue in the campaign.  It was as formal as anything not signed is. … The DCCC ran their own ads attacking (GOP) members on this; because of that their members are going to suffer in terms of not being able to have a COLA."

Serving in Congress is the only job in the country where you can set your own salary without regard to performance or fiscal constraints.  In 1989, Congress amended the law to allow for increases every year unless there is a specific vote to cancel it.  The parties have a history of working together to ensure a successful annual congressional pay raise.  Through budget deficits and surpluses, war time and peace time, and the billions of pork-dollars in between, Congressmen have found ways to increase their own wages. 

Financial disclosure forms show that members of Congress are hardly impoverished, with many being millionaires.  In addition to their salary, members benefit from perks that include free outpatient care at certain hospitals, frequent-flyer miles from government travel, access to first-class gyms and tennis courts, taxpayer-subsidized life and health insurance; and a special pension program.  The benefits of lawmaking extend beyond time in office; nearly half of former lawmakers who are eligible move on to lucrative careers in the lobbying industry.

For six straight years Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) was defeated in his attempt to seek a separate up-or-down vote on the pay hike, which is an obscure part of the annual appropriations bill for the Departments of Transportation/Treasury/HUD/Judiciary/District of Columbia.  Rep. Matheson has also attempted to pass a bill to eliminate the automatic pay increase.   Finally, for one year at least, pay will remain static.

Sadly, Congress will have to do without the $2,800 increase they had expected this year.  But before you take up a collection, know that their salaries remain at a hefty $165,200.

  -- Alexa Moutevelis

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