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Legislative Branch spending bill defeated in House

Democratic defections weren't enough to overcome GOP opposition to pay raise block, spending increase

Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., in his first outing as an Appropriations subcommittee chair, saw the Legislative Branch spending bill defeated on the House floor Thursday.
Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., in his first outing as an Appropriations subcommittee chair, saw the Legislative Branch spending bill defeated on the House floor Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House rejected a fiscal 2025 Legislative Branch spending bill Thursday, as some Republicans rebelled against a provision blocking a pay raise for members of Congress as well as the overall funding increase the measure would provide.

The 205-213 vote marked the first defeat this year of Republican-written appropriations bills that Democrats have united against. Four of the 12 annual bills passed on party-lines votes in recent weeks.

The Legislative Branch bill, which is the smallest of the 12 bills and traditionally among the easiest to pass, derailed that momentum and could undermine GOP hopes of passing all dozen bills in the House before the August recess.

Whether lawmakers should get an annual cost-of-living adjustment they have been denied for more than a decade has now emerged as a key sticking point. The bill would block a COLA for another year.

Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., led a charge against the bill, saying the measure violates the Constitution’s 27th Amendment because pay legislation must be considered separately and not take effect until after an intervening election.

Ten Republicans voted against the bill, and the GOP controls the House by only a three-vote margin. Three Democrats from conservative districts supported the bill.

“We knew it was going to be close,” said Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., chairman of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee. “There were some members that were expressing concerns. There’s a lot of members that weren’t here as well.”

While concerns over the bill may vary, several senior GOP appropriators boarding an elevator after the vote shouted “COLA!” when asked why the bill was defeated.

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., another Appropriations “cardinal,” or subcommittee chairman, said he was surprised by the number of GOP defections, but he cited “a philosophical difference on member pay” as a key reason.

Clyde, a member of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, warned during floor debate he was prepared to vote against the bill because of the provision barring a COLA in the coming fiscal year. He said any proposal on member pay should be considered separately from the appropriations process, with no pay change taking effect until after an election.

The Rules Committee earlier this week blocked two attempts to lift the pay freeze through floor amendments.

California Democratic Reps. Katie Porter and Tony Cárdenas had sought an amendment that would have removed the provision that bars a cost-of-living increase.

And Clyde had sought an alternative amendment that would have barred funding for a provision requiring pay to be frozen, while offsetting the cost of a raise with a $4 million reduction to House member office budgets.

The rule adopted for floor debate on the bill did not allow for a vote on either amendment.

Advocates for a pay increase say salaries have not kept up with inflation over the past decade as members bear the cost of maintaining two homes — one in Washington and one in their districts.

Lawmakers were in line for a 3.8 percent COLA this year, which would have raised base pay to $180,600, according to the Congressional Research Service. If members had received every COLA they have foregone, their 2024 salary would have been $243,300.

House members tried to allow for the first pay increase since 2009 in last year’s Legislative Branch bill. The initial House bill did not include a provision blocking a COLA, but it was reinserted during final conference negotiations

Approving a pay increase in an election year would appear even more doubtful than last year’s attempt. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its own Legislative Branch bill Thursday that likewise keeps the pay freeze in place.

The underlying bill would provide $5.5 billion to fund Congress and related agencies in the coming fiscal year, not including the Senate.

Valadao, pointing to a 3.5 percent increase from this year’s enacted level, not including the Senate-specific accounts, said the bill “balances the legislative branch’s capacity to effectively serve the American people in a fiscally responsible manner.”

But a GOP aide said some members were upset about the proposed funding increase.

Valadao said he would need to consult with GOP leadership to determine changes to the bill that might be needed to win passage.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., dismissed the defeat as a temporary setback that would be ironed out as the appropriations process continues.

“We’re going to have some opportunities to pass additional bills,” he told reporters after the vote. “We’re going to keep working and, if we have time, to come back to the other bills. Eventually it’s all going to be negotiated in the end.”

But the vote nonetheless threw a monkey wrench into the appropriations process that had echoes of last year’s struggle. The House last year passed only seven of its 12 bills.

The Appropriations Committee completed work on their final three bills for the year Wednesday night, and committee leaders held a news conference Thursday to trumpet their progress.

“Every single bill has been marked up through the full committee,” said Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla. “We weren’t able to do that last year.”

But top Democratic appropriators said Thursday the defeat of the Legislative Branch bill shows the process isn’t working.

“Instead of working with Democrats on a bipartisan measure that would get widespread support, Republicans included poison pill provisions that ensured it would receive almost no Democratic support,” said Appropriations ranking Democrat Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Legislative Branch Subcommittee ranking Democrat Adriano Espaillat of New York, in a joint statement. “It is time for Republicans to join Democrats to govern responsibly, which is the only way spending bills can be signed into law.”

Jim Saksa and Paul V. Fontelo contributed to this report.