Has Congress ever voted to cut its OWN salary, benefits, budget, or staff?

I seriously doubt it, but am not sure how to go about researching such a broad, vague question. I think of it every time I see anyone IN Congress on TV talking about government waste and “Big Government” as a problem.

Yes, in 1932 and again in 1933. This was in the middle of the Great Depression.

Not since.

Office of Technology Assessment

I’ve got an idea that there have been some other congress support offices that have been closed down.

Here’s a list of the pay of members of Congress over their history:


Notice that their pay, adjusted to 2014 dollars, has been between $130,741 and $270,697 since 1907. Since 1998, it’s been regularly adjusted to match inflation. Before then, it was more arbitrarily adjusted. Also note that until 1855 (with one exception) pay was per diem (i.e., based on the number of days Congress was in session), not an annual salary. Congress wasn’t in session that much until that point.

However since 2009 successive Congresses have declined to apply the COLA.

Also, ever since ratification of the 27th Amendment, any modification in fixed compensation for members of Congress does not take effect “until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” I notice the limiting event is the election, NOT the swearing in – so you don’t make the change out of spite or cashing-in during a lame-duck session.

There’s a very helpful chart (table 4.1) on page 82 in Congress Responds to the Twentieth Century showing changes in staff numbers from 1891 to 2001… here’s a google books link:

There are substantial decreases in staff numbers from 1987 to 1997 (a decrease of 5.4%) and again from 1997 to 2001 (a decrease of 6.3%) - these include the elimination of the Office of Technology Assessment that Melbourne mentioned as well as other changes.

But the bias of the way the question is asked automatically assumes that the number of Congressional staff is directly correlated to waste, which is probably not the case. In fact, Robert Park has made a case that Congress’ continued elimination of staff has decreased the ability of Congress to monitor what happens in other parts of the government as oversight and the ability of Congress to get good information on questions it needs to address.

Obviously, where Congressmen have hired relatives to serve as staff (I vaguely recall a couple cases of this), they’re probably not getting a benefit out of it, but the elimination of other professional staff has contributed to inaction on critical questions before Congress and reduced the ability of members to agree with each other and pass legislation effecting problems our society faces.

Not directly on topic, but the failure to get a budget deal in 2013 resulted in an across-the-board cut to domestic spending of roughly 8%, and the budget for Congress was cut by the same amount as other agencies.

More directly to the point, the House Republicans since taking power in the 2010 elections embarked on a series of budget-cutting measures. eliminating around 10% of spending in the Legislative Branch over a couple years’ time.


As I recall, these cuts jeopardized a project to renovate the Capitol Dome, which had fallen into disrepair such that occasionally a chunk of iron from the mid-19th century would make an unplanned rapid descent from its lofty heights. Ultimately, the repairs were funded and completed, however.

Note Congressional appropriations include the Library of Congress–which is the national library–and only a small fraction of its activities are for Congress.

Congress doesn’t really get a salary. It’s more of an honorarium. It’s wildly out of proportion to the office.

Think of it this way. For many years, the *average *salary of a first-year graduate of a top law school has exceeded the salary of Congress ($174,000). And those salaries go up every year while Congress’ stays the same.

Congress requires less staff now that lobbyists actually draft many of the bills.

No think of it this way: when in Congress they get limited salaries; but the connections they developed in Congress means they get rich later. Remember poor Eric Cantor who lost his primary bid to a Tea Party guy: he quickly transformed that into a $3 million plus income from an investment banking firm (investment banking being something he knows nothing about–but the firm paid him for his connections):

There’s truth to that, but I think a tougher question is more along the lines of, why would any staffer want to spend more than a few years being paid $60,000 a year to draft bills when they can be paid $150,000 a year to draft bills as a lobbyist.

I believe this is probably less of a dilemma for member of Congress, who would typically have more complex motivations for being a politician that extend way beyond pay.