Will Congress give Vice President Mike Pence a pay raise before leaving town for the holidays?
WASHINGTON – Before leaving town for the year, Congress will decide whether Vice President Mike Pence gets a $12,800 Christmas present – or a lump of coal in his stocking.
A pay bump for Pence, and other top executive branch officials, is caught up in a dispute between Democrats and Republicans in Congress over whether to give civilian federal workers a 1.9 percent pay raise over President Donald Trump’s objections.
Republicans want to tie that increase to raising the salaries of more than 1,000 top government executives whose pay has been frozen at 2010 levels.
Democrats complain that Republicans want to boost administration officials’ pay only when they control the White House.
“There is no reason that the Trump administration, which boasts the wealthiest Cabinet in modern history, should be held to a different standard than the Obama administration when it comes to pay increases,” said New York Rep. Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the House committee that writes that annual spending bills. “If Republicans were really focused on fiscal responsibility for America’s kids and grandkids, they wouldn’t be trying to increase pay for the vice president and senior Trump officials.”
A spokesman for Rep. Tom Graves, the Georgia Republican who heads the House panel that wrote a bill lifting the freeze, declined to comment, saying negotiations are ongoing.
If Congress is unable to pass the outstanding spending bills needed to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year and instead extends current levels of funding, the freeze on executives’ pay would continue.
If the freeze is lifted, Pence’s salary would revert to what it would have been had the position been receiving annual cost-of-living adjustments. That would boost his $230,700 salary up to $243,500, according to House Democrats.
Unlike the vice president, the president does not receive a cost-of-living increase. His salary is set at $400,000.
Trump, however, promised during the campaign not to take any pay. He’s been donating his quarterly salary to various federal departments and projects, including the Small Business Administration, the Veterans Administration and the National Parks Service.
While Trump brags about his wealth, Pence jokes that he’s from “what we call the Walmart Wing of the West Wing.”
“I always tell people, if you think about it, other than a whole lot of zeros, Donald Trump and I have a lot in common,” Pence frequently said on the 2016 campaign trail.
On his most recent financial disclosure, Pence reported between $516,000 and $1 million in retirement funds, and a bank account valued at between $1,001 and $15,000. He had revolving credit card debt valued between $15,001 and $50,000 last year.
Pence, a former governor and six-term House member, does not own a home.
Pence’s office did not respond to a request for comment about whether his salary, and those of other top administration officials, should be increased. The Trump administration has backed lifting the freeze in its budget requests to Congress.
In August, Trump said the nation can’t afford the cost-of-living increase scheduled for civilian federal workers.
Pay for top officials was first frozen by President Barack Obama in 2011 as part of a two-year government-wide pay freeze to respond to the recession. Congress has continued the freeze in the annual spending bill that covers salaries.
Lawmakers have kept their own pay frozen at $174,000 since 2009.
House Republicans tried unsuccessfully for the last two years to raise the pay for top executive branch officials.
In June, they voted down, without comment, an attempt by Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota to keep the freeze. McCollum pointed to eye-popping spending by some of Trump’s Cabinet members, such as the nearly $43,000 soundproof phone booth installed in the Environmental Protection Agency by former Administrator Scott Pruitt.
“Do they believe that this administration’s political appointees have been such responsible stewards of our tax dollars?” McCollum asked of GOP lawmakers.
Although the House version of the bill funding salaries lifted the freeze, the Senate’s didn’t. As lawmakers work out a compromise version, the issue is being debated as part of an agreement to raise pay for civilian federal workers.
J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said federal workers deserve a pay increase “with no strings attached.”
“Government employees have always been there for us, among the backdrop of some of the largest corporate profits and tax cuts for the extremely wealthy,” Cox said.
Steve Lenkart, executive director of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said his union supports raising pay for top administration executives as well as lower-level workers. Cabinet officials are underpaid compared to what they could earn in the private sector, he said. When the gap is too great, the government can’t attract “everyday people” who understand what it costs to raise a family in modern times.
“If millionaires and billionaires are the only ones who can ‘afford’ to serve in the top levels of government,” he said, “we have failed as a democracy.”