The House won’t consider a proposal to create a housing stipend for members of Congress, but the sponsor says that while he didn’t expect to win, the issue at least “should be discussed on the floor of this House.”
The House Rules Committee late Tuesday rejected a request by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) to allow a House vote on an amendment to create a voluntary $25 per day stipend for members who have a primary residence at least 50 miles from the District. The stipend would have begun next year and would have been paid only for days Congress was in session. (Had the amendment passed, Moran would not have benefited in that he lives within 50 miles of the Hill, plus he is retiring at the end of this session.)
Moran in a House floor speech Wednesday said the reaction of the public to his idea has been strongly negative and that a House vote on his plan likely would reflect that opposition.
“I know the opinion of our constituents, but what they might not be aware of is that the District of Columbia has one of the highest rental costs in the country,” Moran said in objecting to the rule that blocked a vote. “It’s very difficult for many members to afford to live here.”
He said congressional pay has eroded in value by a fifth over the past two decades due to pay freezes in about half the years in that time.
Moran first offered the plan in the House Appropriations Committee — which also rejected it— because the spending bill covering the legislative branch once again denies a raise for Congress. Under a 1989 law that was designed to put raises on autopilot, a 1.6 percent January raise is indicated for legislators, most of whom make $174,000.
That figure has remained the same since the last time Congress accepted a raise, a 2.8 percent increase paid in January 2009. Moran says that a precedent has been set that could keep congressional salaries frozen for many more years to come.
With continued freezes, he said, Congress will increasingly consist only of the independently wealthy and of less wealthy members who serve only a few terms “and, frankly, cash out.”
“It’s about the composition of this Congress, of this institution, in the future,” he said.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) responded: “I’m glad you did make your point. I particularly share your concerns about the long-term nature of this body.” But he said that Congress has had to make difficult decisions on spending, and “to add legitimacy to some of those decisions, we’ve had to lead by example.”
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) said it is “reasonable to have a discussion” about congressional compensation, saying, “The simple fact of the matter is, we have at least 20 members of the House of Representatives living in their offices, and I don’t think that’s right.”
The legislative branch appropriations bill is one of two spending bills the House plans to vote on before Friday.