WASHINGTON – A retiring congressman has lost his quixotic bid to give members of Congress $25 a day to help with their living expenses in Washington.
Democrat Jim Moran of Virginia offered the plan as a replacement for the $2,800 cost-of-living increase that would be denied lawmakers under legislation heading to the House floor later this spring.
The House Appropriations Committee rejected Moran's measure by a voice vote as it debated the congressional budget. It got a few audible "aye" votes from the Democratic side of the committee.
Members of Congress earn $174,000 a year and are supposed to receive annual cost-of-living pay raises.
But with their approval ratings in the gutter, lawmakers have voted for five consecutive years to deny themselves the raise.
Moran -- a 12-term lawmaker who's retiring at year's end -- says Congress is at risk of becoming a bastion for the wealthy and that high rents in Washington, D.C., are a burden for lawmakers of lesser means, especially younger members with children.
"There's a legitimate fear that the House is going to be increasingly populated by two types of members," Moran said. "One will be those who come for only a couple terms before multiplying their salary in the private sector as the result of their service. And the other (would be) those who are sufficiently wealthy for whom our salary is a rounding error of their net worth."
Moran's amendment would provide $25 for every day the House is in session for any lawmaker who asks for it. Moran himself would be ineligible, since his Virginia home is just 10 miles from the Capitol.
Moran said that his office has been deluged with angry phone calls since he stood up for the pay hike last week, "almost all of them using obscene language."
Bipartisan reforms enacted in 1989 gave lawmakers a big pay increase in exchange for dropping the much-criticized practice of accepting money from outside interest groups for speeches.
That legislation also awarded lawmakers annual cost-of-living pay increases, which also meant that lawmakers no longer had to cast politically toxic votes to raise their pay.
Congress accepted the annual cost-of-living hike for some years in the 1990s and for most of the 2000s but has voted to deny itself the raise for five consecutive years.
The increase scheduled for next January was to be 1.6 percent, about $2,800 for each lawmaker. But the legislative branch appropriations bill includes no funding for an increase. Moran said that's likely to become a permanent freeze -- while the cost of maintaining a home in Washington will continue to rise.
"We need a diversity of perspective in the House," Moran said. "Don't we want a 30-something physician or district attorney or city council member or small business owner, somebody who may have a new home mortgage or young children or unpaid student loan debt to realistically be able to consider a congressional House seat?"
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Moran has a legitimate point about "long-term institutional issues" and that it's a conversation that lawmakers should have.
Most state legislatures provide per diem payments to their members to cover the cost of lodging in state capitals.