Member of Congress Has a Plan to Get Members of Congress More Money

The rent is too damn high for everyone!

A crane is seen above row houses May 2, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
April 9, 2014, 10:50 a.m.

It’s not that fun be­ing a mem­ber of Con­gress. People des­pise what you rep­res­ent. Amer­ic­ans say they like Nick­el­back more than Con­gress — Nick­el­back, people! You spend much of your time rais­ing money while not much can ac­tu­ally get done, policy-wise. Even you hate where you work.

Add on top of that, the pay ain’t all that grand. Sure, the cash-out from leav­ing Con­gress can be fab­ulous if you head to K Street, but main­tain­ing a D.C. res­id­ence in ad­di­tion to one in your home dis­trict can ap­par­ently be a bit rough on an an­nu­al salary of $174,000. The monthly me­di­an rent­al price for an apart­ment in D.C. is $2,250, ac­cord­ing to Zil­low.

So Demo­crat­ic Rep. Jim Mor­an of Vir­gin­ia has a solu­tion to get his cowork­ers more money to make ends meet: Don’t give mem­bers a cost-of-liv­ing in­crease, just give them a hous­ing sti­pend.

Un­for­tu­nately for Mor­an, his pro­pos­al failed to ad­vance Wed­nes­day in the House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee, which took it up via voice vote. But ap­par­ently a few aud­ible “ayes” did come from the Demo­crat­ic side.

Mem­bers of Con­gress are on track to get a cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ment each year, but Con­gress can ad­just the in­crease or block it al­to­geth­er. They’ve blocked it 11 times and al­lowed it 13 times since 1992.

Es­pe­cially in these cur­rent eco­nom­ic times, it’s polit­ic­ally tough to ba­sic­ally al­low your­self to get a raise. Con­gress has now stopped a raise for fisc­al 2015, for the sixth time in a row.

So Mor­an’s pro­pos­al would have es­sen­tially re­struc­tured that cost-of-liv­ing in­crease so that Con­gress auto­mat­ic­ally gets a hous­ing sti­pend. It would equal $25 a day when Con­gress is in ses­sion, avail­able to House mem­bers whose primary res­id­ence is more than 50 miles from the Cap­it­ol. That means $2,800 for 2014, ac­cord­ing to Mor­an’s of­fice.

Mor­an’s ar­gu­ment also cen­ters on the idea that Con­gress is a place that will at­tract av­er­age people, who are not in­de­pend­ently wealthy.

“The House is sup­posed to re­flect the people of this coun­try. Don’t we want it to make fin­an­cial sense for a 30-something phys­i­cian, dis­trict at­tor­ney, city coun­cil mem­ber, or small-busi­ness own­er, who maybe has a new home mort­gage, young chil­dren, or un­paid stu­dent loan debt, to serve in Con­gress?” Mor­an said in a state­ment. “Fed­er­al elec­ted of­fice shouldn’t be lim­ited just to those who are fin­an­cially in­de­pend­ent and do not have to give thought to pay­ing out-of-pock­et for liv­ing ex­penses while in D.C.”

Mor­an told Roll Call earli­er this month that mem­bers of Con­gress are un­der­paid. “A lot of mem­bers can’t even af­ford to live de­cently in Wash­ing­ton,” he said then.

Mor­an is re­tir­ing at the end of his term, so he can touch such a polit­ic­ally thorny is­sue like this as few oth­ers can. Plus, he lives close to D.C. any­way, and his of­fice says he doesn’t stand to per­son­ally be­ne­fit from his pitch. But mem­bers of Con­gress are truly like the rest of us! Even they are wor­ried about get­ting priced out of a rap­idly gentri­fy­ing and pricey Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

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