Democratic nominee Ann McLane Kuster, taking her second shot at ousting U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass, R-NH, took aim at his congressional pay increases to plead her case for representing New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District in 2013.
In a press release titled, "Congressman Bass’ Hypocrisy on Congressional Pay," Kuster targeted Bass’ proposal to reduce congressional pay if Congress fails to act to avoid the sequester.
"After voting to raise his own pay eight times during his fourteen years in Congress, Congressman Bass has apparently had an election-year change of heart," Kuster said. "While we need to cut and cap Congressional pay, New Hampshire voters deserve better than election-year gimmicks from politicians like Congressman Bass who have spent their careers raising their own pay and protecting their Congressional perks."
PolitiFact has seen its share of jabs over congressional pay increases. PolitiFact Florida and PolitiFact Virginia have each checked similar claims against congressmen in their states and rated those statements Half True and Mostly True, respectively.
Both checksfound those claims -- like Kuster’s statement -- aren't that clear cut.
In 1989, Congress passed an ethics reform law that included an annual cost of living adjustment.
The automatic pay raise was created in exchange for not getting paid for private speeches. The pay raise, based on a formula, is automatically included in appropriations bills unless Congress takes a vote to stop it. The law -- even if it had the best of intentions -- created a system where members of Congress receive raises without having to be on-record voting for them.
What does exist though, are roll call votes on whether members of Congress were willing to hear amendments to suspend their pay increases.
Members of Congress have seen their pay increase over time. Members initially received $6 a day in 1789; today they receive $174,000 annually.
But because the pay raises are now essentially automatic, the only thing Congress can do is vote to stop them.
Bass Represented New Hampshire's Second Congressional District from 1995-2007 and was re-elected in 2010. From 1995-2007, congressional salaries rose from $133,600 in January 1995 to $174,000 in January 2012.
To Back up Kuster's claim, her campaign provided eight votes that they say show Bass voted to increase his own pay.
- Roll Call 261 on H. Res. 865 H.R. 5576, June 13, 2006
- Roll Call 327 on H. Res. 342 H.R. 3058, June 28, 2005
- Roll Call 451 on H. Res. 770 on H.R. 5025, Sept. 14, 2004
- Roll Call 463 on H. Res. 351 on H.R. 2989, Sept. 4, 2003
- Roll Call 322 on H. Res 488 on H.R. 5120, July 18, 2002
- Roll Call 267 on H. Res 206 on H.R. 2590, July 25, 2001
- Roll Call 419 on H. Res 560 on H.R. 4871, July 20, 2000
- Roll Call 300 on H. Res 246 on H.R. 2490, July 15, 1999
We’ll break them down, starting with the earliest:1999: On July, 15, 1999, the House voted 276-147 with Bass in the majority on "ordering the previous question" to essentially defeat a measure to stop the pay raise. The vote was on House Resolution 246, which related to H.R. 2490, the $13.5 billion treasury and general government appropriations bill. The effect: members of Congress accepted a$4,600 pay increase from $136,700 to $141,300 in January 2000.
2000: On July 20, 2000, the House voted 250-173 with Bass in the majority on "ordering the previous question" on House Resolution 560, which quashed an amendment to prohibit a pay raise, and allowed for consideration of H.R. 4871, the fiscal 2001 Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government Appropriations bill. Congressional salaries increased$3,800 to $145,100 a year in January 2001.
2001: On July 25, 2001, the House voted 293-129 with Bass in the majority, to order the previous
question on House Resolution 206, which prevented an amendment to block the pay increase, and allowed consideration of H.R. 2590, the $32.8 billion fiscal 2002 Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government Appropriations bill. In January 2002, House members saw a $4,900 pay increase to $150,000.
2002: On July 18, 2002, the House voted 258-156, Bass in the majority, to order the previous
question on House Resolution 488, which prevented consideration of an amendment to stop the cost-of-living raise, and allowed consideration of H.R. 5120, the fiscal 2003 Treasury Appropriations bill. The vote cleared the way for a $4,700 salary bumpin January 2003 to $154,700.
2003: On Sept. 4, 2003, the House voted 240-173, Bass in the majority, to order the previous
question on House Resolution 351 for consideration of H.R. 2989, the fiscal 2004 Transportation and Treasury Appropriations bill, therefore an amendment seeking to halt a pay raise was not in order, paving the way for Congress’ salary to increase $3,400 in January 2004 to $158,100.
2004: On Sept. 14, 2004, the House voted 235-170, with Bass in the majority, on ordering the previous question for consideration of House Resolution 5025, the fiscal 2005 Transportation and Treasury Appropriations bill. By doing so, the House rejected Rep. Jim Matheson, D-UT's procedural attempt to get a direct vote on the pay raise. Congress received a pay adjustment of 2.5 percent in January 2005, increasing their salary $4,000 to $162,100.
The only House member to speak out against the automatic raise in 2003 or 2004, according to Fox News, was Rep. Matheson. "Now is not the time for members of Congress to be voting themselves a pay raise," Matheson said. "Let us send a signal to the American people that we recognize their struggle in America's economy."
2005: On June 28, 2005, the House voted 263-152with Bass in the majority, on ordering the previous question to again essentially stop Matheson from introducing a measure to block the pay raise. The vote was on House Resolution 342, which related to H.R. 3058, an appropriations bill for transportation and other areas. Congress would receive a $3,100 pay raise, bringing their salary to $165,200.
Alyson Heyrend, Matheson's spokesperson, explained the procedural move.
"Matheson each year sought a 'no' vote on a procedural vote on Ordering the Previous Question," she told PolitiFact in an e-mail. "Had a majority voted 'no' he would have then offered his amendment to deny the annual Congressional pay raise. The process is designed to be obscure -- which is Matheson’s primary concern -- that the public isn't able to see Congress take an open, up-or-down vote on whether or not to raise their salaries."
2006: On June 13, 2006, the House took a similar vote -- this time 249-167 with Bass in the majority -- on ordering the previous question which again halted Matheson's attempt for an up-or-down vote. The vote was on House Resolution 865, which related to H.R. 5576, an appropriations bill. The result: members would receive a $3,300 pay raise increasing their salaries to $168,500.
But then campaign season kicked in. Democrats vowed not to accept the 2007 pay raise until Congress approved an increase to the minimum wage.
On. Dec. 8, 2006, the House voted 370-20 with Bass in the majority or a stopgap funding measure H.J. 102 until mid February 2007 -- delaying the pay raises. Democrats had planned to offer an amendment to delay the congressional pay raise, so "House GOP leaders decided to include language deferring the pay raise in the bill, taking away the Democrats' ability to make it an issue,"Congressional Quarterly Today wrote in an article we found in Nexis.
So, did Bass vote to increase his own pay here? Not exactly, his spokesman says.
"Kuster continually cites procedural votes that have nothing to do with pay raises beyond what certain Members of Congress said they intended to do if this procedural vote failed to move the underlying bill along the House floor process," said Scott Tranchemontagne, a spokesman for Bass’ "Victory Committee," in an email to PolitiFact.
"However, that same argument could be applied to any issue that was not addressed in the underlying legislation being considered at the time. It’s parliamentary shenanigans."
Tranchemontagne added that Bass has voted for extended freezes to congressional pay several times, including recently, with H. Res. 3835 and H.J. Res. 117 which extend Congressional and federal employee pay freezes; and H. Res. 3630-- which would prohibit any pay adjustment for Congress prior to December 31, 2013.
Since Congress has essentially built a system that allows for pay raises without direct votes by its members, it’s difficult to say who voted for the raises, which were a tiny part of much larger appropriation bills. What can be seen are votes on procedural moves to block the pay raises, or force an up or down vote. Still, Kuster is exaggerating to cite these eight votes to say Bass voted to raise his own pay, because the votes didn’t do that on their own.
Still, Bass cast procedural votes that effectively allowed automatic pay raises to stand for eight years, and the practical effect of those votes meant Bass saw raises.
And Kuster left out the fact that Bass has voted for pay freezes.
To us, the two caveats amount to a Half True.