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16 Mar, 2019 21:13

Congress discusses giving itself a pay raise

Congress discusses giving itself a pay raise

Living in Washington DC is expensive. For US lawmakers, that means it’s time to give themselves a pay raise. But with confidence in politics at a miserable low, selling a raise to the public could be an uphill battle.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) called for the raise on Wednesday, in remarks to the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. A pay raise, he said would ensure that elected representatives who don’t come from wealthy backgrounds can live comfortably in Washington DC.

"Americans ought to have our nation’s diversity of economic backgrounds better reflected in this House,” he said.

Members of Congress have had their salaries frozen since 2009, but still earn considerably more than the average American. Senators and Representatives take home $174,000 per year, with party leaders on both houses earning $193,000, and the Speaker of the House topping the scale at $223,500.

Meanwhile, the median American household income in the US was $59,039 in 2017.

Living in Washington DC is expensive. Renters there pay a median rent of $2,700 per month, and the average home costs $585,000, according to real-estate website Zillow. That’s nearly twice the national median of $1,695 to rent and $278,000 to buy. Likewise, the cost of food and transportation in DC outstrips the national average by up to 45 percent.

Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) complained about DC’s cost of living when she was elected in November. Ocasio-Cortez again angled for better pay in a tweet on Wednesday, arguing that lower pay makes staffers flee to lobbyists and members turn to more legally gray avenues“for the extra cash.”

If two thirds of the committee vote in favor of a pay raise, it will then go to Congress for a vote. While several committee members have expressed support for a raise, they understand that it might be a tough sell to the public. Across partisan lines, only 21 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling its job.

“I know this isn’t the most popular issue,” Hoyer said to the committee, “but it is an important one.”

“Does the public support a raise?” said Arizona Democrat Rep. Raúl Grijalva. “And in the middle of everything else we're doing, should we utilize political capital on something like that? I would say no."

Regardless of the cost of living, $174,000 is still a lot of money, and over twice what the average American family lives on per year. Some politicians and commenters shot down the committee’s plans. “A trillion dollar budget deficit and they can’t keep the government open?” wrote one. “Na, man. They should be paying us.”

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