Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

House member makes argument for notable pay raise

April 4, 2014 by Scott Bomboy


A House member is taking an unpopular stand, saying Congress should get a pay boost as the nation’s “board of directors.” Does Representative Jim Moran have a point, or does Congress get paid enough?

In a brief interview with CQ Roll Call, the Democrat from Virginia said that, “I think the American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid. I understand that it’s widely felt that they underperform, but the fact is that this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.”

Moran said the congressional members also should be entitled to per diem pay in addition to salaries and benefits.

“A lot of members can’t afford to live decently when they are at their jobs in Washington.” Moran said. He complained about the size of some “family units” used by House and Senate members, and said Congress should get per diem pay like states pay to their legislatures.

Moran didn’t say how much he wanted the pay raise or per diem allowance to be, and Roll Call said he labeled the idea as “wholly quixotic.”

But a back-of-the-envelope calculation would put the increase at 17.5 percent if members of Congress voted to use an average federal per diem rate for the District of Columbia.

Currently, there is no sign from Congress that it intends to vote itself any kind of pay raise. Under the terms of the 27th Amendment, any such raise would take effect when the next Congress is called into session.

According to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, highest base salaries for state legislators include $95,291 for California and $82,026 for Pennsylvania. (Other states pay their legislators for days that they are in sessions)

The per diem rates vary, but in neighboring Maryland, legislators get $143 a day for lodging and meals while the legislature is in session, in addition to a $43,500 base salary. The Maryland General Assembly meets in regular session 90 days a year. That brings base compensation to $56,370.

Currently, federal House and Senate members receive a $174,000 base salary, plus benefits. The federal per diem rate for Washington, D.C, varies by season and averages about $198 for lodging and $71 for meals per day.

With Congress in session for 113 days a year, the per diem compensation would come to approximately $30,453 a year, or a 17.5 percent annual increase in compensation – if it is based on the current 2014 federal per diem rate for the District of Columbia.

However, congressional members have their travel expenses back to their home districts subsidized as part of something called the Members’ Representational Allowance. And many members take advantage of that benefit to come home for long weekends throughout the year, since many congressional sessions are now limited to three or four days during the week.

In recent years, there have been numerous reports of congressional members sleeping in their offices to save money. In 2013, the Huffington Post polled incoming members and found the “couch caucus” was down to about nine members.

In comparison with other federal employees, member of Congress aren’t among the top 1,000 highest-paid federal workers.

President Barack Obama receives an annual salary of $400,000 and a rent-free place to live (even though he has to pay for his own food).

There are also higher-level members of the Veterans Health Administration who receive annual salaries between $350,000 and $375,000, with a few people topping out close to the President’s salary, according to 2011 data.

But when compared to the average American, the base salary of Congress is about 400 percent higher.

According to Bloomberg News, the average compensation for Directors for corporate boards is $251,000 a year.


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