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Rule for Legislative Branch bill would reinstate member COLA ban

Pay raise issue has been a political lightning rod for years

Rep. Mark Amodei chairs the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee.
Rep. Mark Amodei chairs the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Lawmakers are poised to once again deny themselves a pay raise in the next fiscal year, as Republicans seek to impose steep cuts on most federal agencies and programs. 

The GOP-drafted House fiscal 2024 Legislative Branch appropriations bill had made it through committee without the customary language that has blocked cost-of-living adjustments for members for more than a decade. But the House Rules Committee on Monday approved a rule to amend the bill and reinstate the language, which if enacted would once again freeze member pay. 

The Senate version already contains the customary pay raise prohibition, making it likely to become law once again.

The addition of the anti-COLA language came after a group of members with potentially tight reelection bids ahead of them in 2024 filed a series of amendments to prevent the pay bump. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, led one, along with Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Chris Pappas, D-N.H., Eric Sorensen, D-Ill., Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Wash., and Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.  

Golden and Gluesenkamp Perez represent districts that backed former President Donald Trump in 2020, for example. Slotkin is considered the front-runner in the Democratic primary in the race to fill retiring Senate Democrat Debbie Stabenow’s seat, a general election battle which could be competitive next fall particularly since former House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., jumped into the race.

Reps. Angie Craig, D-Minn., and Zach Nunn, R-Iowa, each among their respective parties’ vulnerable members, introduced amendments of their own that similarly would have blocked a pay raise for members.

While the Rules panel stood in recess Monday night, Legislative Branch Subcommittee Chairman Mark Amodei, R-Nev., introduced a manager’s amendment to block the COLA. The committee self-executed the change as part of the rule, meaning that if the rule is adopted on the floor this week, the amendment would automatically be incorporated into the underlying text. 

In the absence of the anti-COLA language, members could have received a maximum 4.6 percent, or $8,000, bump, according to the Congressional Research Service. Most lawmakers — with the exception of certain leadership positions — currently make $174,000. They last received a pay increase in 2009.

But it would have come as House Republicans are seeking to cut spending across the federal government, giving Democrats a political opening.

House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., blasted the initial House GOP-drafted stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown on Saturday, noting the 48-day continuing resolution wouldn’t extend the member COLA prohibition like the Senate version would.

“What you did was you amended the Senate bill to give yourselves a pay raise while you have threatened day in and day out servicemembers; you have threatened workers across this country; and you have said to them, ‘We don’t really care about you and whether or not you can support your family. We don’t care about that. No. We mainly care about ourselves and our pay raise,’” DeLauro said on the floor.

Amodei responded that the 2024 pay raise issue would be considered during debate on the fiscal 2024 Legislative Branch bill this week, but ultimately decided it was better to amend the CR to add the COLA prohibition, which was quickly inserted by unanimous consent. The stopgap funding bill became law that evening.

Amodei had previously stated his support for the COLA, but acknowledged some members worried about the political ramifications. 

“The policy supports, hey, once every 12 years, you can have a cost-of-living increase,” Amodei said in July after his panel reported out the version that would allow the pay raise. “That’s not exactly greedy. But the politics is — you know how that will go.” 

Democrats attempted to remove the anti-COLA language in their fiscal 2020 bill in 2019, pushing for a 2.6 percent, or $4,500, pay increase for members at the time. But backlash led Democrats to pull the bill.

Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.

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