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House MRA Boost Now Set at 2.5%

House Members’ Representational Allowances are now expected to increase by about 2.5 percent after it was initially thought that the funds in 2008 would stay on level with last year’s totals.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to Member offices on Wednesday afternoon, Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Robert Brady (D-Pa.) wrote that the Appropriations Committee is in the process of approving the reprogramming of funds to help increase MRAs, which primarily are used to fund staff salaries.

“Managed carefully, the additional funding will provide the resources to provide a cost-of-living adjustment to all of your staff without impacting the rest of office operations,” the pair wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Roll Call.

New MRA figures could be issued to Member offices as soon as today, according to one knowledgeable House staffer. The staffer said most offices should expect to see a 2.5 percent increase over last year’s MRA amounts.

MRAs provide funding for Members to support their official and representational duties. The amount each office receives depends on a formula that takes into account three main expenses: personnel compensation, franked mail and official costs such as travel and district office rent.

Not all Members get the same amount, as Representatives whose districts are located farther from Washington, D.C., or in an urban area typically receive more for official expenses.

The Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, which Wasserman Schultz chairs, determines how much money will go to fund individual Congressional agencies and operations each year, including the MRAs. The House Administration Committee, which Brady chairs, maintains jurisdiction over House operations and determines the exact MRA totals that each Member receives.

Original MRA totals for 2008 had been given to Member offices about a week ago. Those totals revealed just a minor increase, prompting a backlash from staffers who complained that they have not gotten a raise in two years. (The Republican-controlled 109th Congress had passed a continuing resolution to fund the legislative branch, which also kept MRA figures level.)

So staffers from the two committees spent the past several days trying to determine the best way to increase the MRA amounts.

In their letter, Wasserman Schultz and Brady note that executive branch employees received cost-of-living adjustments “doubling the adjustment that Members received,” and “our hard working staff deserve an equivalent adjustment.”

The fight over MRAs caused a rare rift between Brady and House Administration ranking member Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), who refused to sign onto the original letters sent to Members informing them of their MRA amounts.

In a statement released Wednesday, Ehlers said he was pleased that Brady was able to negotiate an increase.

“As I have always said, my goal has been to make the needs of Member offices a priority by giving them the resources they need to best serve their constituents,” Ehlers said. “I look forward to continuing to work closely with Chairman Brady, as I have in the past, on these and other issues.”

One of Ehlers’ arguments in favor of raising the MRA figures was that Members received an increase of more than $4,000 in pay this year.

That might not happen in 2009, however, if Reps. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) have their way. Burton and Mitchell introduced separate pieces of legislation on Tuesday that do basically the same thing: eliminate the automatic pay adjustment Members are set to receive in 2009. Paul is a co-sponsor on the Mitchell bill.

At a time when the country is potentially facing a recession, it is inappropriate for Members to increase their own pay, Mitchell argued on the House floor on Tuesday.

“When Members of Congress accept this pay raise, we send the wrong message,” Mitchell said. “Americans are suffering and instead of feeling that pain, Congress is approving pay raises to further insulate us from it. If you want to know why people hate Washington and feel that it is out of touch, it is precisely because of moves like this.”

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