Pay Raise for Congress: Just How Expensive is D.C.?

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Paychecks are a hot topic in politics these days, with Equal Pay Day having just passed by, President Barack Obama emphasizing women and wages, and Republicans emphasizing pay disparity in the White House. Congress is continuing to sit on a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25. Republicans list concerns over unintended economic effects a wage increase could have, while Democrats point to the contraction the pay gap would see with a higher minimum wage.

On top of all of this, 21 states have voted to up their minimum wage by 2015, and a number of others have done so on a more extended timeline. The timing seems perhaps ill conceived, but Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) brought up a Congressional pay raise as well, only to be quickly shot down. Moran is notably leaving Congress after this year, and he suggested a $25 daily living stipend for those who were living within 50 miles of the Capitol, to be given only during the period that Congress meets and only to those who choose to accept it.

In total, the stipend would add up to be approximately $2,800 per year, which would be around the same as what a 1.6 percent raise would add. Moran noted that state legislatures often are given similar funds, according to The Washington Post. For Congress members, who usually make around $174,000 in salary, it’s the sixth year with a spending bill that bans a pay raise for Congress.

Considering Gallup’s latest poll on Congress’s job approval rating, it’s likely that anything but that would result in heavy criticism from voters, and in light of upcoming elections, the timing is especially bad. As of April 3 through April 6, those polled reported an approval rating of 13 percent, down from 15 percent in March and up slightly from 9 percent in November. “The institution’s all-time low of 9% in November 2013 is still fresh, and there is little indication so far that approval ratings will markedly improve by Election Day,” said Gallup.

Election Day doesn’t concern Moran, though, who can speak more freely as a result — and who kept the vote on his proposal vocal so as to avoid pressuring fellow Congress members with a written record of their votes. “My principal concern is the impact of a continued pay freeze on the Congress over time. Now that the issue has been sufficiently politicized, which party is going to allow, much less advocate, for a member salary adjustment? I’d be surprised if this provision doesn’t become an obligatory provision of the legislative branch bill,” he said, according to The Washington Post.

And while D.C. is nothing in comparison to the cost of living in New York City, housing is 29 percent more expensive than in Los Angeles and 116 percent more expensive than Miami, based on CNN‘s cost of living calculator. All in all, it holds its own among CBS’s list of the 10 most expensive cities to live in within the United States.

“I think there’s a legitimate fear that the House is going to be increasingly populated by two types of members,” said Moran to The Washington Post. “One will be those who come for only a couple of terms before multiplying their salary in the the private sector as a result of their service, the other those who are sufficiently independently wealthy for whom our salary is a rounding error of their net worth. We need a diversity of perspective in the House. The ability to serve in the Congress should not be limited to those who don’t have to give any thought to paying out-of-pocket living expenses in D.C.”

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