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Dems to yank bill to raise congressional pay after backlash

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

Sarah FerrisHeather CaygleLaura Barron-Lopez House Democratic leaders are postponing consideration of a bill that would include a pay raise for members of Congress, after facing a major backlash from the party’s most vulnerable members.

Top Democrats agreed in a closed-door meeting Monday night to pull a key section of this week’s massive funding bill to avoid escalating a clash within their caucus over whether to hike salaries for lawmakers and staff for the first time in a decade, multiple lawmakers confirmed.

At least 15 Democrats — mostly freshmen in competitive districts — had pushed to freeze pay after some Democratic and Republican leaders quietly agreed to the slight pay increase earlier this month.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) confirmed to POLITICO after the meeting that he “thinks” they would pull the bill so that Democrats can resolve the issue of congressional pay raises.

The issue flared up in the Democratic leadership meeting on Monday, where there was an intense discussions of whether to force members to go on the record about a pay raise, which some battleground Democrats believed would create a target on their back in 2020.

“Nobody wants to vote to give themselves a raise. There’s nothing good about that,” said Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), who attended Monday’s meeting.

But Hill said she also believed the issue deserved more discussion to ensure that stagnant pay wasn’t deterring average Americans from running for office — particularly if they already live in districts with high costs of living.

The potential vote set off Democratic political consultants who warned that if members were on the record supporting a pay raise for themselves it could be seen as tone deaf. One strategist called it “political suicide” for freshman Democrats in swing districts if they were made to take the vote.

During a monthly Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee held Monday with staffers who handle communications for the Frontline program, which protects members in battleground seats, a Democratic pollster who was invited to brief staffers on different issues, raised concerns about the pay increase.

Jefrey Pollock, the president of Global Strategy Group, told staffers and DCCC in the meeting that a vote to raise lawmaker’s pay was “problematic.”

“It feels like a potential ready-made attack ad,” Pollock told POLITICO Monday evening.

Several Democrats in battleground seats have scrambled behind the scenes to convince Democratic leaders, including Hoyer, to backtrack on the decision. Several have personally approached Hoyer to protest the move after he and other party leaders agreed to the cost-of-living-increase. It would amount to an extra $4,500 for members, who currently make $174,000.

Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) — who sits in a district that Trump carried by more than six points — warned Hoyer on the floor last week that the move would be bad politics and bad policy, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the discussions.

Cunningham later authored his own amendment to halt the pay increase. Similar amendments were also drafted by freshman Democrats like Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) — whose district leans Republican by 12 points, and Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.) — whose district favors Republicans by six points.

And even if Congress does approve the pay hike, several vulnerable Democrats, including Cunningham and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), have vowed to send any additional cash back to the Treasury or donate it to charity.

The House still plans to begin voting on the massive spending package to fund several agencies but will hold off on the section of the bill that sets funding levels for both branches of Congress — creating an unexpected scramble for congressional appropriators.

Without action on the floor, the pay increase would automatically go into effect under current law. Democratic leaders would need to allow a specific vote to block the cost of living increase, which members have done every year for a decade.

Democratic spending leaders have said the pay raise has bipartisan support. But it carries huge political risk for both parties. Congress hasn’t given itself a pay hike since the depths of Great Recession in January 2009.

Several battleground Democrats were infuriated by their leadership’s decision to move forward, which they saw as inviting attacks from Republicans back home.

The National Republican Campaign Committee, the GOP’s campaign arm, seized on the issue last week and blasted House Democrats as “socialist elitists” for considering a cost of living raise in the upcoming spending package.

But it was later revealed that top Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, had already backed the measure, and even agreed not to attack the other party over it in a private meeting last week. The NRCC then removed its release denouncing Democrats.

Democrats in Monday’s leadership meeting first blamed Republicans for the blow up, complaining that McCarthy and the GOP campaign arm were trying to capitalize on the issue to score political points after previously agreeing not to do so. But then Hoyer said not only would McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise support the increase but the NRCC executive director was also on board, according to sources familiar.

Leaders in both parties have blamed the stagnant pay for turning away qualified congressional candidates and staff. When adjusted for inflation, lawmakers’ salaries have decreased 15 percent since 2009, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Melanie Zanona contributed to this story.

This article was originally published by the Politico on June 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sarah Ferris covers budget and appropriations for POLITICO Pro. She was previously the lead healthcare and budget reporter for The Hill newspaper.

A graduate of the George Washington University, Ferris spent most of her time writing for The GW Hatchet. Her bylines have also appeared at The Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Raised on a dairy farm in Newtown, Conn., Ferris boasts a strong affinity for homemade ice cream, Dunkin Donuts coffee and the Boston Red Sox.

About the Author: Heather Caygle is a Congress reporter for POLITICO. Before coming to POLITICO, Caygle was a congressional reporter for Bloomberg BNA, primarily covering transportation but also dabbling in Hill action on tax reform, agriculture, appropriations and the Postal Service. Her work has also been featured on the WashingtonPost.com and WAMU.

Caygle, an Alabama native, is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and received her master’s from American University in Washington. She loves rooting on the Alabama football team — Roll Tide — and spending time with her corgi/chihuahua mix named Biggie Smalls.

About the Author: Laura Barrón-López is a national political reporter for POLITICO, covering House campaigns and the 2020 presidential race.

Barrón-López previously led 2018 coverage of Democrats for the Washington Examiner. At the Examiner, Barrón-López covered the DNC’s efforts to reform the power of superdelegates and traveled to competitive districts that propelled Democrats into the House majority. Before that, Barrón-López covered Congress for HuffPost for two and half years, focusing on fights over fast-track authorization, criminal justice reform, and coal miner pensions, among other policy topics in the Senate.

Early in her career, she covered energy and environment policy for The Hill. Her work has been published in the Oregonian, OC Register, E&E Publishing, and Roll Call. She earned a bachelor’s in political science from California State University, Fullerton.

Veto the Cold-Hearted Health Bill

Monday, June 26th, 2017

Donald Trump is right. The House health insurance bill is “mean, mean, mean,” as he put it last week. He correctly called the measure that would strip health insurance from 23 million Americans “a son of a bitch.”

The proposal is not at all what Donald Trump promised Americans. He said that under his administration, no one would lose coverage. He said everybody would be insured. And the insurance he provided would be a “lot less expensive.”

Senate Democrats spent every day this week pointing this out and demanding that Senate Republicans end their furtive, star-chamber scheming and expose their health insurance proposal to public scrutiny. That unveiling is supposed to happen today.

Republicans have kept their plan under wraps because, like the House measure, it is a son of a bitch. Among other serious problems, it would restore caps on coverage so that if a young couple’s baby is born with serious heart problems, as comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s was, they’d be bankrupted and future treatment for the infant jeopardized.

Donald Trump has warned Senate Republicans, though. Even if the GOP thinks it was fun to rebuff Democrats’ pleas for a public process, they really should pay attention to the President. He’s got veto power.

Republicans have spent the past six years condemning the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which passed in 2010 after Senate Democrats accepted 160 Republican amendments, held 110 bipartisan public hearings and conducted 25 consecutive days of public floor debate. Despite all of that, Republicans contend the ACA is the worst thing since Hitler.

That is what they assert about a law that increased the number of insured Americans by 20 million, prohibited discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions and eliminated the annual and lifetime caps that insurers used to cut off coverage for sick infants and people with cancer.

The entire cavalry of Republican candidates for the GOP nomination for President promised to repeal the ACA, but Donald Trump went further. He pledged to replace it with a big league better bill.

In May 2015, he announced on Twitter: “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.”

In September 2015, he said of his health insurance plans on CBS News’ 60 Minutes, “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

In another 60 Minutes interview, this one with Lesley Stahl last November, he said, “And it’ll be great health care for much less money. So it’ll be better health care, much better, for less money. Not a bad combination.”

In January, he told the Washington Post, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.” He explained, “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

But then, the House Republicans betrayed him. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the measure they passed, called the American Health Care Act (AHCA), would cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid. It said people with pre-existing conditions and some older Americans would face “extremely high premiums.”

Extremely high is an understatement. Here is an example from the CBO report: A 64-year-old with a $26,500 income pays $1,700 for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but would be forced to cough up more than half of his or her income – $16,000 – for insurance under the House Republican plan. Overall, premiums would increase 20 percent in the first year. And insurers could charge older people five times the rate they bill younger Americans.

House Republicans said states could permit insurers to squirm out of federal minimum coverage requirements, and in states where that occurred, the CBO said some consumers would be hit with thousands of dollars in increased costs for maternity care, mental health treatment and substance abuse services.

In the first year, the House GOP plan would rob insurance from 14 million Americans.

So much for covering everyone with “great health care at much less money.”

It’s true that President Trump held a party for House Republicans in the Rose Garden after they narrowly passed their bill. But it seems like he did not become aware until later just how horrific the measure is, how signing it into law would make him look like a rank politician, a swamp dweller who spouts promises he has no intention of keeping.

By last week when President Trump met with 15 Senate Republicans about their efforts to pass a health insurance bill, he no longer was reveling in the House measure. He called it “cold-hearted.” He asked the senators to be more “generous,” to put “additional money” into their version.

Senators told reporters that President Trump wanted them to pass a bill that is not viewed as an attack on low-income Americans and provides larger tax credits to enable people to buy insurance.

Now that sounds a little more like the Donald Trump who repeatedly promised his health insurance replacement bill would cover everyone at a lower cost. Still, those goals remain amorphous.

The House bill is stunningly unpopular, almost as detested as Congress itself. President Trump seems to grasp the enormity of that problem. But even his calling it a “son of a bitch” doesn’t seem to have been enough to persuade senators that he’s serious about getting legislation that achieves his promises to leave Medicaid intact, cover everyone and lower costs.

Republican senators deciding the fate of millions of Americans must hear from Donald Trump that passing a health insurance bill that doesn’t fulfill his campaign promises is, shall we say, a cancer on the Presidency.

A veto threat would get their attention.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on June 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Leo Gerard is president of the United Steelworkers.

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