Few topics are less politically popular than Congressional pay raises. And AOC is one of the most polarizing figures in Congress. But, she is right Congressional pay should increase.
No, not all her reasoning is prudent. The below Twitter thread embraces a line of thinking and presumption of corruption that is unhealthy:
Yet, the crux of her point that regular cost of living raises are appropriate and necessary is on correct. Here’s why:
1. Washington, DC and its surrounding suburbs are among the most expensive places to live in the country, by any of the varied ways of measuring such things (two examples here and here). Want qualified people to work and live part time in an expensive metro area, while maintaining a home elsewhere in the country? You need to pay them accordingly. Unless you’re a fan of only the rich being able to serve in Congress.
2. Congressional pay is flat and lagging. Yes, a $174,000 salary is good… and it has been falling behind inflation. They haven’t seen an increase since 2009! Despite the myth of Congress routinely voting itself pay raises, it doesn’t happen often:
Today, Federal law theoretically allows an annual cost-of-living adjustment, but Congress usually votes to decline the raise. In fact, the last time Congress accepted the raise was for 2009, almost a decade ago. According to the Congressional Research Service, between 1991 and 2018, Congress accepted the adjustment 13 times, but rejected it 15 times.
A decade without a cost-of-living adjustment in just about any job is idiotic employment policy. And note, at no point are we talking about a performance-based increase. We’re talking about the reality of cost-of-living in America today.
3. Suppressing Congressional pay does the same to senior executive branch employees, because such pay is linked by federal law.
Salary compression also occurs between the highest levels of the General Schedule and lower levels of the SES because senior executive pay is linked to congressional pay, and only goes up when Congress votes to give themselves a raise, something that’s frequently avoided due to the political environment.
Sure, it’s political catnip for Members of Congress (without high concentrations of federal employees as constituents) to say they’re holding the line on pay for federal bureaucrats, but the Senior Executive Service (SES) are some of the most important jobs in the federal government. Many of them could make much more taking their skills to the private sector. While the federal government can’t and shouldn’t match such compensation, unnecessarily widening the gap isn’t helpful for employee recruitment and retention either.
4. Much of public lore about Congressional pay and benefits is wrong. No, they don’t have a special health care plan (they’re on Obamacare!). No, they don’t avoid paying into Social Security and Medicare. No, they don’t get their salary as a pension for life. Those, like many other myths about Congress, are incorrect.
Yes, Members of Congress are not paid poorly and the benefits (as long as you can stay in office) are quite good. But such myths above and beyond that are just as insidious as AOC and the like claiming many Members of Congress are self-dealing and corrupt. Sure, wherever 535 humans are gathered in positions of power and authority abuses will take place, it’s human nature, but the presumption of widespread greed and ill-behavior is unhealthy absent real proof.
Do we want well-qualified, talented people to serve in Congress? Then we should pay them. Maybe not as well as they might receive in the private sector, especially after serving in Congress, but we shouldn’t be miserly either.
I want Congress to be more accessible to more people like AOC, who don’t come from wealth, who aren’t making a great salary before running, and/or who have the expense of raising a family.
Raising Congressional pay is the right move and overdue, regardless of the politics.