Utah’s Rep. McAdams joins fellow moderate Democrats to halt congressional pay raise

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Ben McAdams meets with the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board, Wednesday, April 24, 2019.

Washington • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy struck a deal recently to give members of Congress a pay hike, the first in a decade.

And then moderate Democrats balked.

Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, and McCarthy, a California Republican, had pitched the plan that would tie an increase to members’ salaries to inflation, adding about $4,500 to their take-home pay next year and rising more each year. Rank-and-file members of Congress now make $174,000 a year.

But members, like Rep. Ben McAdams, a Utah Democrat who won his seat in one of the closest races in the country, pushed back. It's not good optics to raise your own salary, after all.

"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," McAdams said in pushing an amendment to block the pay raise. "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."

Hoyer and McCarthy had countered that raising the wage for members would keep the body from becoming a home for only millionaires and would allow for senior staffers to be paid more. Right now, a staffer can’t be paid more than his or her boss.

In the end, McAdams and his fellow Blue Dog Democrats, a group of moderate members who represent Republican-leaning or swing districts, won out. The pay raise wasn’t in the spending package brought to the House floor.

“I’m happy that they listened,” McAdams said. “And you know the people of Utah sent me here to work on some tough issues like addressing the rising cost of health care and prescription drugs and reforming a broken immigration system and not to raise my own salary. And I don’t think Congress should have even asked for a pay increase until we fix what’s broken about Washington."

McAdams, who eked out a win over Republican Rep. Mia Love by 694 votes last year, follows in the path set by Love’s predecessor, Jim Matheson, who was also a moderate Democrat and lobbied against pay raises while in office.

“We continue to swim in a pool of red ink,” Matheson said on the House floor in 2006. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to have this … raise go through without an up-or-down vote.”

Matheson often donated the amount of his latest raise to charity.