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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Salaries of Members of Congress: Recent Actions and Historical Tables

Ida A. Brudnick
Specialist on the Congress

Congress is required by Article I, Section 6, of the Constitution to determine its own pay. Prior to 1969, Congress did so by enacting specific legislation. From 1789 through 1968, Congress raised its pay 22 times using this procedure. Members were initially paid per diem. The first annual salaries, in 1815, were $1,500. Per diem pay was reinstituted in 1817. Congress returned to annual salaries, at a rate of $3,000, in 1855. By 1968, pay had risen to $30,000. Specific legislation may still be used to raise Member pay, as it was most recently in 1982, 1983, 1989, and 1991; but two other methods—including an automatic annual adjustment procedure and a commission process—are now also available.

The Ethics Reform Act of 1989 established the current automatic annual adjustment formula, which is based on changes in private sector wages as measured by the Employment Cost Index (ECI). The adjustment is automatic unless denied statutorily, although the percentage may not exceed the percentage base pay increase for General Schedule (GS) employees.

Members of Congress last received a pay adjustment in January 2009. At that time, their salary was increased 2.8%, to $174,000 from $169,300. A provision in the FY2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act prohibited any pay adjustment for 2010. Under the pay adjustment formula, Members were originally scheduled to receive an adjustment in January 2010 of 2.1%, although this would have been revised downward automatically to 1.5% to match the GS base pay adjustment. Members next were scheduled to receive a 0.9% pay adjustment in 2011. The pay adjustment was prohibited by P.L. 111-165 (H.R. 5146), which was enacted on May 14, 2010. Additionally, P.L. 111-322, which was enacted on December 22, 2010, prevented any adjustment in GS base pay before December 31, 2012. Since the percentage adjustment in Member pay may not exceed the percentage adjustment in the base pay of GS employees, Member pay is also frozen during this period. If not limited by GS pay, Members could have received a salary adjustment of 1.3% in January 2012 under the ECI formula.

Under the pay adjustment formula, Members could receive a maximum pay adjustment in January 2013 of 1.1%. This percentage could be lowered due to (1) lower increases for the General Schedule, as proposed by the President, which would automatically limit the Member pay adjustment; and (2) legislation introduced in the House and Senate (for example, H.R. 3630, H.R. 3835, H.R. 3858, S. 2079) to extend the current pay freeze.

This report contains information on the pay procedure and recent adjustments. It also contains historical information on the rate of pay for Members of Congress since 1789; the adjustments projected by the Ethics Reform Act as compared to actual adjustments in Member pay; details on past legislation enacted with language prohibiting the annual pay adjustment; and Member pay in constant and current dollars since 1992. For information on actions taken each year since the establishment of the Ethics Reform Act adjustment procedure, see CRS Report 97-615, Salaries of Members of Congress: Congressional Votes, 1990-2012, by Ida A. Brudnick.

Members of Congress only receive salaries during the terms for which they are elected. Former Members of Congress may be eligible for retirement benefits. For additional information on benefit requirements, contributions, and formulas, see CRS Report RL30631, Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress, by Katelin P. Isaacs.

Date of Report: September 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: 97-1011
Price: $29.95

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