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House staffers can now make more than their bosses

$199,300 maximum exceeds what members have made since 2009

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, here walking with her Deputy Chief of Staff Drew Hamill in 2019,  told members they can now pay aides more than Congress itself is paid.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, here walking with her Deputy Chief of Staff Drew Hamill in 2019, told members they can now pay aides more than Congress itself is paid. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Corrected 4:45 p.m. | Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that staffers may now make more than their bosses.

Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues she was raising the annual maximum salary for congressional aides to $199,300. Base pay for members — set by law — is $174,000 and has not changed since 2009. While some committee staffers have been able to earn more than members, individual office staff were capped at just under their boss’s level — $173,900. 

The move was praised by good governance advocates who have long said that the relatively low pay for top staffers contributed to a Capitol Hill brain drain. 

“Obviously this is something that is very helpful in allowing the House to be competitive with not only the private sector but a variety of other organizations that are always competing for good congressional staff,” said Brad Fitch, president of the Congressional Management Foundation.

A 2013 CMF survey found low compensation was the main reason why staff considered leaving Capitol Hill. 

Calling the raise one of Demand Progress’s “longstanding recommendations,” policy director Daniel Schumann tweeted that it would help members retain talent. “Adequately compensating staff who could easily go elsewhere and earn more is smart policy,” he said. 

Increasing the maximum pay level doesn’t mean chiefs of staff and other top aides will necessarily see fatter paychecks. But the move also comes as Democrats have proposed increasing the amount members get to run their offices.

The fiscal 2022 appropriations bill for the legislative branch approved by the House in July includes a 21 percent increase, to $774.4 million, to the Members Representational Allowance, which is used for district office rent, travel and staff salaries, among other things.

Like any employer, members of Congress compete in the labor market for workers. A few years on the Hill makes staffers attractive to executive branch agencies, trade groups, lobbyists and public relations agencies — all of which can offer higher pay (and, often, better hours). 

Pelosi’s order only affects the House; it’s unclear whether the Senate would follow suit. Senate leadership offices did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Fitch credited the House’s Select Committee on Modernization of Congress for changing the conversation around staff pay and taking other steps to improve staff retention in the House.

“This is going to be an increasing challenge for the Senate,” Fitch said. “If we see the House continue to follow through with these recommendations, you have the potential for creating a two-tiered environment in Congress and the Senate would be the lower tier.” 

Created in January 2019, the modernization committee made 97 recommendations last year. The committee, which is set to expire at the end of 2022, advanced 20 more recommendations last month, including proposals to offer staff tuition reimbursement and calls to centralize human resource functions that can differ wildly from office to office.

The date of House passage of the legislative branch appropriations bill has been corrected in this report.

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