Congressional pay raise in 2013?

Members of Congress are on track to receive a pay raise in 2013, unless they vote against it when they return from August recess.

The maximum pay boost lawmakers are eligible for in 2013 is 1.1 percent, or about $1,900 for most. The 1989 Ethics Reform Act created the current formula, which is based on changes in private sector wages as measured by the Employment Cost Index, and automatically takes effect unless Congress votes against it, or it’s more than the pay raise given to federal workers.

It’s unlikely that lawmakers, who earn $174,000 a year if they don’t hold leadership positions, will see an extra $1,900 in their paychecks next year for a few reasons. While the methods for determining the annual pay raises of lawmakers and federal employees vary slightly, the two are tied. Lawmakers’ annual pay adjustments cannot exceed the annual base pay adjustments of General Schedule employees. (Lawmakers do not receive locality pay.) When Congress approved a two-year pay freeze for government workers beginning January 2011, it effectively froze its own pay. In fact, lawmakers have denied themselves pay increases since 2009.

This year is a little different. Lawmakers have remained silent in several spending bills over whether to grant feds a pay increase in 2013. The 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act allows the president through an executive order to set a pay raise for government employees if Congress doesn’t specify one and doesn’t pass legislation prohibiting it. None of the usual spending bills for fiscal 2013 in either chamber contains any provisions related to a federal pay raise. But they also don’t mention anything about an extended pay freeze either.

Unless both chambers pass legislation, either stand-alone or through the annual appropriations process, it will be up to President Obama to decide whether federal employees will receive a pay boost in 2013. Obama, who has until Aug. 31 to officially announce a proposed raise, has recommended a 0.5 percent bump for government workers next year. So if feds receive a 0.5 percent bump and Congress doesn’t specifically deny itself a raise, lawmakers also will receive a 0.5 percent raise in 2013.

Lawmakers also could insert a provision freezing their own pay in the continuing resolution it must pass to keep the government running after Sept. 30. They could deny federal workers a raise as well, or continue to remain silent and let the president decide the matter. Given the public’s dismal view of Congress and the upcoming elections, it’s increasingly likely lawmakers will vote against raising their own pay next year.

There are several pieces of legislation floating around in both chambers now that call for freezing congressional pay. For example, in February, the House passed H.R. 3835, which would freeze congressional and federal civilian salaries through 2013. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., introduced legislation in April that would slash the salaries of congressional members and eliminate any future cost-of-living increases. On the Senate side, Montana Democrat Jon Tester sponsored a bill that specifically freezes lawmakers’ pay in 2013. The House and Senate, however, have not agreed yet on legislation denying lawmakers a raise in next year.

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