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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman August 7, 2019

No, congressional salaries have not gone up 231% over the last 30 years

Public interest is usually high when it comes to stories about lawmakers giving themselves pay increases. But sometimes those stories are wrong.

Take, for example, the claim that Congress voted to give itself a pay raise in 2018 (it didn't), or the rumor that members can retire with full pay after only one term in office (they can’t).  

Now, a Facebook post says that while House Democrats are requesting a pay increase, congressional salaries have gone up a whopping "231%" over the last 30 years.

The post, which includes text over a photo of the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, says:

"Over the past 30 years, Congressional Salaries have gone up 231% While 80% of Americans haven’t even been able to keep up with Cost of Living! Now Congress is saying they need a $4,500 raise … for doing WHAT???"

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The part of the claim that says "80% of Americans" can’t keep up with the current cost of living is essentially correct. According to a 2017 Career Builder report, 78% of full-time workers in the U.S. said they live paycheck-to-paycheck to make ends meet.

And while members of Congress have, indeed, gotten raises over the years, it hasn’t happened since 2009. As well, the salary increases that have been approved in the last 30 years appear to add up to less than half of the 231% figure the post employs.

First let’s look at how congressional salaries increases work

Required by Article I, Section 6, the Framers of the Constitution decided that Congress would determine its own salary. In 1789, members earned $6 a day when they attended sessions. The per diem was increased to $7 for senators that same year, marking the first official congressional pay raise. After that, Congress periodically enacted specific legislation to alter its pay – until 30 years ago with the passage of the Ethics Reform Act of 1989.

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The bill established the current automatic annual adjustment formula, which is fixed to the Employment Cost Index (ECI) that measures changes in wages – meaning that the raises must be equal to increases in the ECI. Under this system, congressional pay increases are automatic each year unless Congress votes it down – which it has done since 2009 – the last year senators and representatives received a salary adjustment. 

So how much have congressional salaries gone up?

According to a Congressional Research Service report, rank-and-file members of Congress were making $89,500 30 years ago in 1989. Today, they receive the same salary they have since 2009: $174,000. That comes to a 30-year increase of 94 percent.

(Note that Congressional leadership receives higher salaries: $223,500 annually for the Speaker of the House today, and $193,400 for the Senate President pro tempore. The majority and minority leaders in both chambers also receive $193,400.)

Bill Ryan, spokesperson for the Library of Congress, confirmed to PolitiFact that, per the Congressional Research Service report we consulted, the salaries have seen a 94% increase since 1989.

The post is even more incorrect when you consider inflation. The $89,500 lawmakers were earning in 1989 today would be worth nearly $182,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics's inflation calculator.

When it comes to the upcoming adjustment in January 2020, if the potential increase of $4,500 is approved, the projected percentage increase for the year would be 2.6%, bringing the total 30-year increase to 84 percent over the $96,000 salary members received in 1990.

Our ruling

A post on social media says that over the last 30 years, congressional salaries have gone up "231% while 80% of Americans haven’t even been able to keep up with Cost of Living!"

While three-quarters of full-time U.S. workers did say they live paycheck-to-paycheck, congressional salaries haven’t increased since 2009, and in the last 30 years have gone up about 94%.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, July 19, 2019

Politico, House Democrats propose $4,500 pay raise for Congress, June 4, 2019

Congressional Research Service, Salaries of Members of Congress:

Recent Actions and Historical Tables, March 17, 2019, Senate Salaries since 1789, accessed July 31, 2019, Salaries: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, accessed July 31, 2019

PolitiFact, Did Congress vote to give itself a pay raise this year? No, April 20, 2018

CNBC, Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck, Aug. 24, 2017

Career Builder, Living Paycheck to Paycheck is a Way of Life for Majority of U.S. Workers, Aug. 24, 2017

Email interview, Bill Ryan spokesperson for the Library of Congress, July 31, 2019

Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, accessed Aug. 5, 2019

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No, congressional salaries have not gone up 231% over the last 30 years

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