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Member COLA a sticking point in Legislative Branch bill talks

House GOP panel chairman backs lawmaker pay raise, but the odds seems stacked against it

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., says he can understand why some in the House, where lawmakers are generally not as wealthy as their Senate counterparts, would like a pay raise.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., says he can understand why some in the House, where lawmakers are generally not as wealthy as their Senate counterparts, would like a pay raise. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A potential pay raise for lawmakers — which would be a first in nearly 15 years — remains an open issue in negotiations over the final fiscal 2024 Legislative Branch appropriations measure. 

Appropriators are still discussing whether to include the annual rider that would block a pay increase in the final bill, leaders of the Senate and House Legislative Branch Appropriations subcommittees said Wednesday. 

Without the language blocking the member cost-of-living adjustment, most lawmakers would receive a 4.6 percent, or $8,000 increase, according to the Congressional Research Service. The standard member salary is $174,000 — with the exception of leadership positions that pay more — the same amount they have made since the last increase in 2009. 

Both chambers included the language blocking a cost-of-living adjustment in their individual versions of the Legislative Branch measure.

House Republicans at first did not include the language blocking the cost-of-living increase in the version of the bill approved in committee. But in the waning days of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s tenure, they reinstated the language in a self-executing rule governing floor debate on the Legislative Branch bill. 

A month later, after Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., was elected, the Legislative Branch bill passed the House with the COLA-blocking rider attached. No Republicans opposed it, and four Democrats in tough races backed it — Don Davis of North Carolina; Jared Golden of Maine, Mary Peltola of Alaska and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington.

House Legislative Branch Appropriations Chairman Mark Amodei, R-Nev., who has backed a pay increase for members, said Wednesday that it would be easier to get it enacted in a six-bill package than in a stand-alone Legislative Branch bill. 

“I don’t think the COLA is going to be the tipping point, for or against it,” Amodei said. “It won’t be for me.” 

Members wanted a chance to vote on the pay increase on the floor, and McCarthy’s decision to use a self-executing rule to remove the language “left a bad taste in the mouth” of some, Amodei said.

Amodei said that during Wednesday morning’s Republican Conference meeting, he told the group that even if GOP leaders don’t want to take the language prohibiting the increase out of the final bill, they should at least whip the conference to see where the majority of Republicans stand. 

Appropriations for Legislative Branch accounts are currently scheduled to lapse after March 22, along with much of the rest of the federal government’s discretionary funding. A new bill combining those accounts into one package is expected in the coming days.

The House passed an initial six-bill package for other federal agencies on Wednesday.

In July after the House Appropriations Committee reported out its initial version without the COLA-blocking rider, Amodei said it has been many years since lawmakers’ last raise. “That’s not exactly greedy,” Amodei said at the time. “But the politics is — you know how that will go.” 

Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Chair Jack Reed, D-R.I., said his chamber is listening to the House’s arguments in favor of the increase. But he said it’s a tough time for lawmakers to give themselves a pay raise. 

“I think it’s difficult, given the deficit pressures and the perception generally that there are so many urgent needs,” he said. “That will run into some opposition by a lot of folks.” 

However, Reed said he understands that the Senate’s membership is often wealthier than the House’s. 

“We understand that there is a disparity between the financial condition of the members of the Senate — I am an exception to that — who in many cases are independently wealthy, or substantially wealthy, versus young members of Congress who are raising families, who are shuttling them back and forth, etc.,” he said. 

House Democrats had tried to remove the anti-COLA language in their fiscal 2020 bill, which would have led to a 2.6 percent, or $4,500 pay increase. But bipartisan opposition at that time also led to it getting reinstated into the bill. 

Amodei said funding for the House Office Diversity of Inclusion is another area of contention in the talks, as the House-passed bill included language that prohibited diversity, equity and inclusion programming and eliminated all funding for the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Democrats opposed those efforts.

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