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House Lawmakers Block Own Pay Hike

House lawmakers voted for the sixth year in a row on Thursday to deny themselves the cost-of-living pay hike that they would otherwise automatically receive next January.

The move would freeze congressional salaries at $174,000 a year and is attached to legislation to fund Congress’ budget, which passed the House by a 402-14 vote. Lawmakers haven’t received a pay hike since January 2009.

Bipartisan reforms enacted in 1989 gave lawmakers a big pay increase in exchange for dropping the much-criticized practice of accepting money from outside interest groups for speeches.

U.S. Capitol
U.S. Capitol (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

That legislation also awarded lawmakers annual cost-of-living pay increases, which also meant that lawmakers no longer had to cast politically toxic votes to raise their pay.

Congress accepted the annual COLA for some years in the 1990s and for most of the 2000s but has voted to deny itself the raise for five consecutive years.

The scheduled 1.6 percent hike would give lawmakers a raise of about $2,800.

The congressional salary is generous but many lawmakers make but a fraction of the money than do the lobbyists who meet with them. And steep housing prices in the Washington area can be a hardship for lawmakers who opt to rent an apartment. In fact, more than a few lawmakers sleep in their offices during the three nights a week they typically are in Washington.

In debate on Thursday, a veteran lawmakers who is retiring protested that freezing lawmakers’ salaries would make it more difficult for people of modest means, like teachers, veterans, and younger people with small children, to serve in Congress. And sticking the provision to block the COLA into the legislative branch spending measure, said Rep. James Moran of Virginia, sets “a precedent that is going to be very difficult to reverse.”

Also Thursday, the House rejected an attempt by Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., to block lawmakers from using their official office budgets to lease automobiles. Cole said 63 members lease cars and that some members have found it’s more economical to do that than to opt for mileage reimbursements.

The underlying congressional funding bill freezes Congress’ budget at current levels. Since Republicans took control of the House in 2011, the chamber’s budget has been reduced by 14 percent after sizable increases under Democratic control. It contains $21 million to complete a restoration of the iconic iron dome of the Capitol, which dates to the Civil War and contains many cracks.

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