WASHINGTON — Just about everyone is complaining about inflation. From the cost of groceries to gas to plane tickets – you’re paying more for the same.
A viewer emailed us asking whether Congress gets an automatic pay increase.
Does Congress get an automatic pay increase?
- Mark Harkins- senior fellow at The Government Affairs Institute, Georgetown University
- Casey Burgat- legislative affairs program director and assistant professor, The George Washington University
- Congressional Research Service- report 1, 2, 3
- House of Representatives website- "Member Data: Salaries"
- Senate website- "Senate Salaries since 1789"
- Ethics Reform Act of 1989
Members of Congress are eligible for an annual pay increase that follows the Employment Cost Index, a statistic published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Congress can refuse to take the increase, and they have since 2009.
WHAT WE FOUND:
In 1989, Congress passed a bill that would ban members from getting paid for speaking events called “honorariums.”
“Up until the enactment of this law and its actual implementation, which was in 1991, they were allowed to take up to 25% of their salary in additional funds by going and talking to groups,” Harkins said.
Because of that the Ethics Reform Act increased their pay by 25% and entitled them to an annual pay increase.
It follows what’s called the "employment cost index." That’s a statistic put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing overall how much more private U.S. employees are making than before.
Congress can always turn the increase down.
“They have not accepted it since 2009,” Harkins said.
"Which means that they have put it either in a standalone bill and passed it as a single piece of legislation, or they've included it in some other bill as a means of getting rid of that automatic cost of living adjustment," Burgat said.
“It doesn't poll well, it doesn't play well," Harkins said. "When your approval rating is in the 20% range as an organization, it's really hard to then go and say, ‘oh, and I deserve more money.’”
“Spending money on themselves is one of the worst messages that candidates and members of Congress can have," Burgat said.
According to this CRS report, "Each year, the adjustment takes effect automatically unless it is either denied or modified statutorily by Congress, or limited by the [General Schedule] base pay adjustment, since the percentage increase in Member pay is limited by law to the GS base pay percentage increase."
So we can VERIFY, yes, there is an automatic pay increase for members of Congress. But they don’t need to take it, and they haven’t in over a decade.
Here's how much members of Congress make a year:
- U.S. Senators & House Representatives: $174,000
- President Pro Tempore of the Senate & Minority and Majority leaders of the House of Representatives: $193,400
- Speaker of the House: $223,500
Now if members of Congress had taken every increase available to them since 2009, they would be making $200,100 today, about $26,000 more according to a CRS report.