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April 30, 2014 Published in From Congress

Moran Brings Member COLA Reform To House Floor

Representative Jim Moran, Northern Virginia Democrat, Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee and senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, took to the House floor today to discuss his proposed amendment to the Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2015.

The House Rules Committee refused to allow full consideration of Moran’s amendment to restructure annual COLA adjustments as a housing stipend for House members who maintain a primary residence more than 50 miles from the Capitol when Congress is in session.

Moran delivered the following prepared remarks:

“I rise in opposition to this rule.

“I am disappointed that an amendment I offered to create a modest Member stipend for housing costs for days that the House is in session was not made in order by the Rules Committee.

“I didn’t stand to personally gain at all from this stipend.  The program wouldn’t begin until the next Congress, and I am retiring.  In addition, I have a home 10 miles from the Capitol, so would not even qualify.

“So, why am I raising this issue?

“I realize this proposition won’t be popular among the American public.  Given the dysfunction of Congress in recent years, they’d be right to think we are overpaid.

“I expect most Members will oppose this proposal.  I don’t blame them.

“But I believe it is important to highlight a concern I have heard from my colleagues, from both political parties, about the cost of maintaining a second residence in D.C. for official duties.

“Congress has routinely denied pay adjustments authorized by law.  COLAs have been denied 11 of the past 23 years, including the last five years.

“This FY’15 Legislative Branch bill would extend that freeze for a sixth year.

“We all know that some of our colleagues are challenged by the cost of maintaining two residences.

“D.C. has one of the highest rental costs in the country.  As of this February, the median rental price is $2,250 per month - $27,000 per year.  This price has increased 12 percent since 2010.

“Yet, according to the Congressional Research Service, Member pay has declined in inflation-adjusted dollars by 19 percent since 1992.

“As a result, some Members find it difficult right now to afford a second residence in D.C. – a requirement of their job.

“My principal concern is the impact a continued pay freeze will have on Congress over time.

“This is the first time a pay freeze has been included in the Legislative Branch bill.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if a pay freeze becomes an obligatory provision of the Legislative Branch bill from now on.

“So, 5, 10, 15 years from now, salaries remain the same as today.  All the while, inflation and D.C. rental prices continue to increase.

“My fear is that the House will be increasingly populated by two types of Members: 1) those who will serve a couple of terms before multiplying their salary in the private sector; and 2) those who are independently wealthy, for whom this salary is a rounding error of their net worth.

“Those eager to move on from Congress will never take the time to learn about this institution, much less be invested in making it function properly.

“The temptation to seek greener pastures is only heightened by recent Supreme Court decisions that will create of wave of political spending and, no doubt, plenty of lucrative jobs.

“And while I know many wealthy people who make outstanding Members of Congress, they can never provide the diversity of perspective needed in the People’s House.

“The House is supposed to reflect the people of this country.  Most citizens aren’t wealthy.  But already, over half of the people in Congress are millionaires.

“Don’t we want a 30-something physician, or district attorney, or city council member, or small business owner, who maybe has a new home mortgage, young children, or unpaid student loan debt, to realistically consider a run for a House seat?

“I know the idea of providing Members with additional compensation in order to make this body more democratic is counterintuitive, but I believe it is a discussion worth having.

“That is the spirit in which I offer this amendment.  I regret it was not made in order.

“I believe it would have been valuable to have this debate on the House floor.”

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