Congress to Uncle Sam: Give Us A Pay Raise!

Greedy Congress

When the House Rules Committee convened yesterday, the plan was to debate a Labor Department rule expected to make millions of workers newly eligible for overtime pay. Some lawmakers also took the opportunity to complain that their own salaries are simply too low.

“I hope they don’t get trapped like we did, without having a cost of living adjustment,” Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said of the some four million workers estimated to benefits from the new rule.

Hastings wasn’t alone. 

“I think it’s going to mean that normal, regular people can’t afford to come up here and it’s going to change the way this place looks,” Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said of lawmakers' $174,000 annual salary. That pay rate has been frozen since 2009.

The bellyaching comes as Congress neared the brink of what would be the second government shutdown in about three years. That shutdown threat could make it tougher for lawmakers to wrap up yet another largely unproductive term. Maybe that’s why more than three-quarters of Americans aren’t happy with the way Congress is doing its job.

Everybody Hurts, Sometimes.

The committee was actually meeting to consider legislation to delay the overtime rule for six months. That would give employers more time to prepare for the new requirements and offer opponents a little more room to pursue court challenges.

The overtime rule, slated to go into effect Dec. 1, expands automatic eligibility for time-and-a-half pay for all hours worked beyond 40 per week. It would do that by more than doubling the salary threshold—up to about $47,500—under which workers are automatically entitled to overtime pay.

Critics, like Sessions and other Republican panel members, say the increase is too much too soon. They’re worried that employers—especially small businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and academic institutions—simply won’t be able to afford the costs and will respond by trimming jobs.

“This rule will hurt the very people it’s intended to help,” Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) told the panel. 

Hastings and other rule supporters argue that it will spur economic growth by putting more money in workers’ pockets. They said that’s particularly true for low- and middle-class workers whose wages have stayed flat, despite increases in U.S. productivity.

174,000 Problems.

The top end of the new overtime salary threshold is less than one-third of the annual salary that the average member of Congress draws each year. 

“We talk about other people losing their jobs?” Hastings, a former federal judge who was removed from the bench after being impeached on bribery charges, asked. “A lot of people are going to leave this place because they can’t afford to stay.”

Sure, the Washington, D.C., metro area is an expensive place to live, especially for someone who is also trying to maintain a household somewhere else in the country. It’s also important to note that much of the congressional pay discussion came right after the hearing technically closed. 

But the irony of lawmakers complaining about their pay just days away from the government shutting its doors is tough to avoid.

When Sessions closed the committee hearing, he noted that the panel would reconvene later that night. He also observed that members “will be coming back to work overtime without pay.”

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