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Lawmakers propose another pay freeze on congressional salaries

With a scheduled pay increase on the horizon, members of the House of Representatives have proposed another freeze on congressional salaries. The automatic cost-of-living bump would have raised lawmakers’ salaries by 1.6 percent, totaling an additional $2,800 a year.

Congressional paychecks have remained at $174,000 a year since January 2009, when the last pay hike was installed. The current proposed freeze is part of legislation that would fund the Congressional budget approved by a House Appropriations panel on Thursday.

The automatic cost-of-living increase was put into place in 1989, as part of a plan to halt the then-common practice of members accepting large speaking fees and other honorarium, which was criticized by some as a way outside interest groups bought the good will and influence of Congress.

The pay freeze may be seen by constituents as a gesture of goodwill during times of economic crisis, but the proposal is drawing criticism from within Congress. Virginia Democrat James P. Moran plans to introduce an amendment to the bill that would give lawmakers a per diem payment, as many state legislatures do, to cover housing costs.

He told CQ Roll Call, “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 cited steep housing prices in the Washington, D.C., area as one reason why legislators need a salary increase.

“A lot of members can’t even afford to live decently when they’re at their job in Washington,” he said. He went on to explain that some take to sleeping in their offices to make ends meet, while others have “small little apartment units” that keep them from spending time with their families.

Moran, who plans to retire from Congress at the end of his term, is sure the amendment will not pass, but hopes he can draw attention to the issue.