By Mark Binker and Nicole L. Gill
WASHINGTON – Seven of Maryland’s eight U.S. representatives voted Wednesday for a politically sensitive cost-of-living pay raise that was narrowly approved by the House.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, was the only local legislator to vote against the measure, which passed 229-199.
“Members would only deserve a cost-of-living adjustment if deficit reduction targets were met by reducing spending,” said Bartlett spokeswoman Lisa Wright.
Last week Bartlett joined his colleagues in a preliminary procedural vote that would have allowed a 2.3 percent pay raise to take effect. But the Western Maryland Republican said he was unaware that vote could lead to the pay raise.
Most of the pay hike supporters are politically comfortable in their re-election bids while opponents tend to be more recently elected lawmakers who face stiffer opposition. Bartlett won re-election last year with 57 percent of the vote, the smallest margin of victory among Maryland House members.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Prince George’s, led Wednesday’s fight on the House floor to keep the pay increase in a bill funding the Treasury Department and Postal Service. “This is about staying even,” Hoyer told his colleagues.
He said the pay increase was necessary because many legislators are not independently wealthy and could not afford to forgo the increase, which would increase House salaries from $133,600 to $136,673.
“Most of us in this body don’t have fortunes to pledge,” Hoyer said.
Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Prince George’s, said his vote was in support of important projects for postal service and treasury employees as well as the congressional pay hike.
“Federal employees get COLA (as well as) military personnel, Social Security recipients and most people in the private sector,” Wynn said in an interview after the vote. “I think it is normal and appropriate. I am comfortable with getting this.”
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest also defended the vote. He said the 1989 commission that established the automatic pay increase was trying to keep the issue away from partisan debate.
“The system that was set up was a very good system,” the Eastern Shore Republican said.
Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Baltimore County, agreed that there is a need for a pay increase and said it shouldn’t be a political issue.
“I believe the public is sophisticated enough to understand the difference between a reasonable and infrequent (cost-of- living increase) … and an out and out pay raise,” Ehrlich said through a spokesman.
Aides to Reps. Constance Morella, R-Montgomery, and Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, said they were not voting in support of the pay raise but to keep the agencies involved in the legislation funded.
Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, did not return phone calls.
The House legislation now goes to a joint Senate-House conference committee for negotiations. The Senate-passed version of the funding bill excludes the pay hike.