Blue Dog’s McAdams Stands Up Against Congressional Pay Raise

June 11, 2019 by Dan McCue
Congressman Ben McAdams

WASHINGTON – Representative Ben McAdams wants to block a salary increase for members of Congress that is automatically set to take effect in January.

Toward that end he’s introduced an amendment to the roughly $1 trillion package of spending bills on the floor of the House this week that would bar funding for a cost-of-living increase for members of Congress.

“The federal budget deficit is $738 billion for the first eight months of this fiscal year, putting us on the unbelievable path of digging a nearly $1 trillion budget hole by the end of September,” said McAdams, who is a member of the Democrats’ Blue Dog Coalition, which advocates for fiscal responsibility.

“Borrowing any money to give members of Congress a pay raise would add insult to injury and it is nowhere on my list of legislative priorities,” he said.

Under a 1989 ethics law that set cost-of-living increases for lawmakers, members are slated to receive a 2.6% increase of $4,500 in January.

The salary for rank-and-file House and Senate lawmakers is $174,000, but those with official leadership titles and responsibilities make more. That level has been frozen since 2009 and each year appropriators have written into law that no pay raises would be given to members.

In an interview with The Well News earlier this week, McAdams said balancing budgets has been a concern of his since his days as mayor of Salt Lake County, and in the Utah State Senate, but he said he’s never felt more urgency to try to rein in government spending than he does today.

“I know some might see a $4,500 raise for a member of Congress as a drop in the bucket when it comes to something as large as the federal budget, but the path we are on fiscally as a country is unsustainable and it really is squeezing out our ability to invest in the future,” the first-term congressman said.

McAdams submitted a one-sentence amendment to the Rules Committee that simply states no cost of living adjustment will be made for members of Congress for the next fiscal year.

His amendment is to the Legislative branch appropriations bill, which funds Congressional operations.

“What this is about is it being high time for us to have an honest conversation, among members of both parties, about what our fiscal priorities really are … and we need to recognize that this is a zero sum game,” McAdams said. “We’ve got to decide what’s important.”

“I also think it’s time for someone to start talking about debt because debt and deficits matter,” he continued. “Frankly, I think it’s tone deaf to be contemplating raising congressional pay at a time when we have record deficits and the national debt is exceeding $22 trillion.”

“Since last October, according to the Congressional Budget Office, spending for net interest on the public debt increased by 16 percent,” McAdams added. “Interest payments on the debt are the fastest growing part of the budget and it is immoral to keep adding that financial burden to our children and grandchildren.

“Only in Congress could you hike your own pay without regard to performance or fiscal responsibility, and I think doing so sends the wrong message to the American people,” he said.

Whatever becomes of his attempt to block the pay raise, McAdams said it is critical that Congress put itself on a trajectory toward balancing the federal budget and to do so quickly.

“That’s going to take a lot of touch choices, and we may not be able to fund a lot of the things we’d like to,” he said. “But this is why I ran for office. For me, it’s always been about fighting for fiscal responsibility.”

McAdams said during his tenure as Salt Lake County mayor, from 2013 to 2019, his administration balanced the budget every year with bipartisan support.

“It was difficult. You have to pinch pennies, because the pennies add up and at the end of the day, little things matter,” he said.

“And that gets back to what I was saying about the message we send to the American people through our actions,” he continued. “Yes, the economy is prosperous right not. But we all know that not everyone is participating in that prosperity.

“Until it is, I don’t think members of Congress should be increasing our own salaries,” he said.

McAdams isn’t alone in trying to stop the pay increase. Representative Jared Golden, D- Maine, has teamed up with Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., to offer a bipartisan amendment to continue the pay freeze. Two Republicans, Representatives Jack Bergman, R-Mich., and Scott Perry, R-Penn., are also said to have proposals in the works of their own.

McAdams told The Well News that he’s spoken to colleagues on both sides of the aisle who agree now is not the time for a congressional pay raise, and he believed that ultimately, they’ll all be working together to stop the January increase.

“It’s just commonsense,” McAdams said. “You know, when I was growing up it was said Rule No. 1 is, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging until you find a way out.

“I believe we can come together in a bipartisan fashion to address the tough challenges that we need to work on, first and foremost, the debt and the budget deficit, but beyond that things like immigration reform, and reining in the high cost of prescription drugs,” he said.

In addition to the amendment he introduced this week, McAdams is backing a balanced budget amendment.

“It’s similar to proposals that have been introduced by Blue Dog members in the past; what’s different now is that we have a Democratic majority in the House and it’s time for us to set the agenda and show that we can lead in a fiscally responsible manner — something we didn’t see when the Republicans were in the majority and our deficit only grew larger.”

McAdams also said he wouldn’t be surprised if balancing the budget doesn’t become a major issue in the 2020 presidential election.

“I can definitely see that happening,” he said.

“The national debt and the deficit are bipartisan problems. Both parties have to share responsibility for putting us in the situation we’re in … and honestly, we’re not going to get out of this situation without people from both parties working together,” McAdams said. “So I hope it is part of the conversation during the presidential election and that the American people come to understand that there are elected officials in Washington who take this issue seriously and are going to work hard to get us out of this situation.”

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