Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Roll Call on Aug. 5, 1991. We discovered it when looking for archival photos of Rep. James P. Moran, who made headlines by telling CQ Roll Call reporter Hannah Hess that members of Congress are “underpaid.” Moran, actually one of Congress’ poorest members, is retiring instead of seeking a 13th term.
Turns out Moran was among a group of freshmen calling for pay raise changes in an effort spearheaded by now-Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. (The effort was successful. The 27th Amendment was ratified a year later, in 1992.) The caption on the photo caught our attention and is priceless. It reads: Some 35 of this year’s 45 House freshmen are calling for changes in the way Congress works. They’re doing it now, they say, before they get co-opted by the system themselves. At a Thursday press conference (from left) Reps. Larry LaRocco, Jim Moran and Rick Santorum.
Full story as it appeared on page 3 nearly 23 years ago below.
Freshmen Ask Limit on Pay-Raise Power Of Congress as Part of Broader Reforms By Karen Foerstel
Three-quarters of House freshmen have signed onto a resolution to limit the pay-raise authority of Congress.
The move is part of a broader effort by 35 of the 48 freshmen in the Class of 1990 to reform the way Congress works. They say they want to act now — before they themselves become entrenched in the system.
The resolution, introduced Thursday, encourages states to ratify a Constitutional amendment, first proposed two centuries ago, that would delay any pay raise from taking effect until after an election has intervened.
In approving its own pay hike in 1989, the House abided by the principle in the proposed amendment: The principal raise (not including a cost of living adjustment) did not occur until January 1991, after the 1990 election.
But the raise for the Senate, which is part of the 1992 Legislative Appropriations Bill, goes into effect immediately upon the President’s signing of the legislation, with no election in-between.
“It seems logical and fair to our coalition of freshman Members that if Congress chooses to vote itself a pay raise in the future, the voters, as financers of the Congress, should first have a voice in whether or not to vote these Members back to office at a higher salary,” said Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), who is spearheading the freshman reform movement.
The amendment was first introduced in 1789 by James Madison as part of a package of 12 additions to the Constitution, ten of which eventually became the Bill of Rights. Since then, 35 states have ratified the amendment — though many did so long ago.
For example, Maryland ratified the so-called “Madison Amendment” in 1789. Wyoming ratified it in 1978. The most recent ratification was in March of this year by North Dakota.
The amendment was proposed without a ratification deadline and still technically is pending before the states. Theoretically, the amendment will go into effect when three more states (three-quarters of the 50) give it their approval. But Congress is likely to decide the amendment is no longer eligible to be ratified because it has been pending too long.
Still, the reform-minded freshmen are determined to pass their resolution as the first step toward broader Congressional reform.
“Wasteful, ineffective, irrelevant is the way a lot of our constituents describe the Congress,” said Rep. Charlie Luken (D-Ohio). The amendment, said Luken is a “way of bringing this institution in line with the American people.”
Luken is one of 15 freshman Democrats, out of 27 in the House, to support the resolution. The entire Republican freshman class — 20 Members — has signed on. The lone House Independent, Rep. Bernie Sanders (Vt) has not.
“We believe if you’re going to have real reform, you must push from the bottom up,” Boehner said. “Once you’re here three or four terms, you have a vested interest in the way things are run.”
Boehner is planning to meet with veteran Reps. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind) and Willis Gradison (R-Ohio) to discuss placing a freshman on the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, a panel proposed last week by Hamilton and Gradison, along with Sens. David Boren (D-Okla) and Pete Domenici (R-NM).
At a press conference Wednesday, the four veterans announced they were introducing a resolution calling for a 20-member panel to study how Congress can become more efficient and effective. Among the possible reforms: a revamping of the committee system. The House and Senate leadership has not yet responded to the proposal.
But even if a freshman does not get a seat on the joint committee, Boehner said he will continue to meet weekly with the informal group of new Members he helped organize in February to discuss reform issues.
The group is made up of eight freshmen, five Republicans and three Democrats. In addition to Boehner, they are: Reps. Bill Barrett (R-Neb), Wayne Allard (R-Colo), Dave Camp (R-Mich), Rick Santorum (R-Pa), Bill Brewster (D-Okla), Luken, and Gary Condit (D-Calif).
Among the issues discussed during the weekly gatherings is a reworking of the House schedule.
“There’s a lot of interest on our side in the three-weeks-on, one-week-off Senate schedule,” Boehner said. “We should have a clear picture of when we’re going to be in session. For example, on Monday we were told we had votes. So we cancel everything, we sit around, and there’s no votes. It’s very frustrating.”
Three years ago, the Senate adopted a schedule by which they work three straight five-day weeks (with votes possible on any weekday) followed by one complete week off. The House most weeks operates on a three-day schedule, with votes usually scheduled Tuesday through Thursday of each week.
In practice, however, neither system works flawlessly. Until recently, for example, the Senate had held few Monday or Friday votes in 1991. And, as a recess nears, the House almost always holds votes on Fridays – not to mention weekends.
When Congress returns from recess in September, the freshman group is planning to send out a questionnaire to every Member regarding the current House schedule and taking recommendations on how to improve it.
Boehner also wants to rework committee scheduling.
“I’m on nine subcommittees,” he said. “Physically, it’s impossible to do all of those.”