A measure to increase congressional salaries showed the limits of party unity after Democratic leaders pulled the measure from an appropriations bill that passed the U.S. House on May 19.
Among the group of Democrats vocally breaking for the party and opposing the 2.6 percent pay increase were Minnesota Rep.s Angie Craig and Dean Phillips.
The raise would have amounted to about $4,500 a year for rank-and-file members. The salary for a member of Congress not in a leadership position has been $174,000 since 2009, when Congress put a freeze on salary increases in the wake of the Great Recession.
Proponents of the increase such as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, argued the measure would have been a cost-of-living adjustment similar to those received by other federal employees. Craig called the measure “business as usual” in Washington and out of touch with the priorities of constituents.
“I just can’t in good conscience vote to increase that pay at the taxpayer expense when I know families in my district have been seeing stagnant wages and salaries for far too long,” Craig said in an interview before the appropriations vote. “We need to focus on getting the work done for the American people before anybody utters a word about a congressional pay increase.”
According to The New York Times, Hoyer told reporters he didn’t want members in tough re-election fights subjected to “demagoguing” over the proposal. The proposal could come up again later this year.
The appropriations bill covered funding for the departments such as Labor, Health and Human Services and Education and others for fiscal 2020.
According to the most recent census, the median income in Craig’s 2nd Congressional District is $81,885.
Craig was one of several House members who introduced amendments to the bill that would have continued the pay freeze. The move put Craig up against other House Democrats who supported the measure as a way to achieve a living wage for congressional staffers and reduce the influence of big money in campaign politics.
One such proponent, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, said the increase wasn’t about padding members’ pockets but strengthening the congressional system.
“Voting against cost-of-living increases for members of Congress may sound nice, but doing so only increases pressure on them to keep dark money loopholes open. This makes campaign finance reform *harder,*” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “ALL workers deserve cost of living increases, incl(uding) min(imum) wage workers.”
Craig pushed back against such arguments.
“We all get a budget, and we all decide what to pay our staff,” Craig said. “A member of Congress has the flexibility within the total dollars allotted to pay their staff whatever they believe is fair and appropriate.”
The first-term representative also said there are other ways to close dark money loopholes, like supporting bills like the “For the People Act,” which she co-sponsored to increase transparency in campaign financing and keep members of Congress from joining for-profit corporate boards.
H.R. 1 passed the House in March but has yet to be taken up by the Senate.