House votes to keep lawmaker pay freeze in place
By Cristina Marcos
The House on Friday passed legislation to maintain the freeze on lawmakers’ salaries that's been in place since 2010.
Lawmakers approved the annual spending bill for legislative branch operations largely along party lines on a vote of 233-175, a contrast from past years, when the measure has been one of the easiest of the 12 annual appropriations bills to pass with wide bipartisan support.
This year, all but 10 Democrats voted against final passage in large part because of a provision that would reverse a decision made by the Library of Congress to stop using the term “illegal alien” in subject headings.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) urged fellow Democrats ahead of the vote to oppose the legislation over the Library of Congress provision.
“As lawmakers representing a country of immigrants, we cannot stand to disseminate information that perpetuates racism and promotes hate,” Sanchez wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter.
Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) submitted an amendment that would strip the provision out of the appropriations bill. But the GOP-controlled House Rules Committee declined to allow a floor vote on Castro’s amendment this week.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee that wrote the legislative branch spending bill, tore into Republicans’ effort to overturn the decision made by the Library of Congress.
“To continue to insist that the Library of Congress by law use a pejorative term that they have been petitioned to change by the American Library Association so that researchers can search for the appropriate term when they are doing research is truly unbelievable,” she said during floor debate.
“To be so committed to racist and bigoted terms that really have no place in the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill is outrageous.”
Republicans said the term simply reflects that some immigrants are in the country illegally.
"We are, actually, helping the Library here. We are not telling them what words to use. We are just saying, hey, be consistent with U.S. law," said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommitee overseeing legislative branch operations.
The House Rules Committee also declined to allow a vote on Rep. Bennie Thompson’s (D-Miss.) amendment that would prohibit the display of the Mississippi state flag, which contains the Confederate image, around the Capitol complex. Thompson’s amendment would have also banned the statues of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and Confederate Col. J.Z. George in the Capitol.
“The U.S. House of Representatives will continue to sanction and glorify relics of bondage, bigotry, and oppression. Today, Republicans reminded us once again why they proudly refer to themselves as the ‘Grand Old Party,’” Thompson said in a statement.
One of the amendments allowed a vote by GOP leaders, and later adopted by voice vote, would require installation of lactation stations for breastfeeding mothers in the Capitol and adjacent House office buildings.
The underlying legislation continues the freeze on lawmaker pay so rank-and-file members’ pay remains at $174,000 annually. Majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate make $193,400, while the Speaker makes the highest salary, at $223,500.
Only a handful of lawmakers have called for increasing lawmakers' pay in recent years to account for cost of living adjustments and the cost of real estate in the expensive Washington, D.C., market. Many members split the cost of rent by sharing homes in D.C. or even sleep in their offices when Congress is in session.
On Thursday, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said members of Congress should have more "courage" in asking for salaries they feel are more adequate.
“I know this, I’ve had a lot of members on both sides of the aisle say to me that they know that I’m correct,” he said during a House floor speech.
“Courage, friends. Courage. That’s what it takes.”
The legislative branch spending bill is now the second 2017 appropriations bills to pass in the House this year. The House also passed a Department of Veterans Affairs spending bill last month, but another measure funding the Department of Energy failed in large part because of the adoption of a Democratic amendment enforcing an executive order prohibiting LGBT discrimination.
House GOP leaders will proceed with subsequent appropriations bills by limiting which amendments can get votes instead of allowing open rules allowing members of either party to propose unlimited changes.
The legislative branch spending bill served as an example of GOP leaders cherry-picking amendments, a practice consisently applied for the measure in recent years.
Next week, the House is expected to move forward with a Defense Department appropriations bill under the new, limited process.