WASHINGTON – Maryland lawmakers should expect tough questions about voting themselves a pay raise when they hit the campaign trail next year, political analysts said Thursday.
Each of Maryland’s eight members of the House of Representatives voted Wednesday for a funding bill that lacked language to stop an automatic, annual cost-of-living adjustment.
“It will be an issue for any incumbent who is on the record as having voted for this thing,” said Lee Sigelman, a George Washington University political science professor.
Congress traditionally votes to kill the pay increase when it passes the appropriations bill that funds the Treasury Department and U.S. Postal Service. But the bill sailed through the House on Thursday with little debate and no mention of killing the pay increase.
Incumbents who fail to vote down pay increases often see that used against them by opponents on the campaign trail, analysts said.
“It’s one more burden incumbents will have to bear,” said Allan J. Lichtman, chairman of the history department at American University.
He said since Maryland’s delegation usually doesn’t face tough political contests, they may be more comfortable in supporting pay raises.
“You haven’t had a history of hotly contested races in Maryland after all,” Lichtman said. “Maryland’s congressional delegation changes pretty glacially.”
But Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, who had the smallest margin of victory among the eight lawmakers in the last election, said Thursday he was misled on the vote and vowed to fight the pay raise.
“Before I voted for this bill, I was personally assured there was no pay raise for Congress in it,” Bartlett said through an aide. The congressman would not identify who had given him the assurances, said Bartlett spokeswoman Lisa Wright.
Wright added that if the raise is approved, Bartlett would donate the additional salary to a local college scholarship fund for students in his Western Maryland congressional district.
Rep. Constance Morella, R-Montgomery, voted for the bill not based on the pay raise but because it will fund other operations, said aide Bill Miller. “It contains critical funding for federal government operations, many of which affect Montgomery County,” he said.
Others were quick to point out that lawmakers didn’t actually vote to raise their salaries.
“There’s nothing in that bill that directly addresses member pay raises,” said Jerry Irvine, a spokesman for Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Prince George’s.
Republican Reps. Wayne Gilchrest and Robert Ehrlich Jr. and Democratic Reps. Benjamin Cardin, Albert Wynn and Elijah Cummings did not return telephone calls.
Congress has voted to kill the increase for the past three years. When the Senate passed its own version of the Treasury and Postal appropriations bill earlier this summer, it voted to kill the increase by a voice vote.
The House and Senate must now reconcile the differences between the two bills.
If approved, House salaries would increase next year 2.3 percent, from $133,600 to $136,673 a year.