- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate has not voted
- The house has not voted
Committee on AdministrationIntroducedFebruary 7th, 2019
- house Committees
What is House Bill H.R. 1085?
Cost of House Bill H.R. 1085
In-Depth: Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) introduced this bill to require all unused funds from Members’ Representational Allowances (MRA) to be returned to the Treasury Dept. for the purposes of deficit reduction or reducing the federal debt:
“Today our national debt stands at $21,968,156,302,745 and growing. Members of Congress must lead by example and be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. My bill will return millions of dollars back to the treasury to help reduce our crippling national debt and deficit.”
In a statement to The Western Journal, Rep. Lesko added that this bill seeks to help the federal government “live within its means”:
“The federal government must live within its means. Our future generations are going to be crippled with debt if the federal government cannot get its fiscal house in order. With our debt at over $22 trillion, we must act to preserve our national security and give our economy the stability it needs.”
Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who, in a shift from the congressional tradition of paying staff below a living wage, is paying her interns $15 and hour and staffers a minimum of $52,000 year (versus the current norm of unpaid Capitol Hill internships and an average junior staffer salary of slightly less than $29,500 a year for an average of 50-59 hours of work a week), argues that the MRA should actually be increased to allow members to pay their staffers a living wage. In a tweet on December 3, 2018, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez tweeted:
“This week I went to dive spot in DC for some late night food. I chatted up the staff. SEVERAL bartenders, managers, & servers *currently worked in Senate + House offices.* This is a disgrace. Congress of ALL places should raise MRAs so we can pay staff an actual DC living wage.”
In a follow-up tweet, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez added that it’s “unjust” for Congress to underpay staffers and interns:
“It is unjust for Congress to budget a living wage for ourselves, yet rely on unpaid interns & underpaid overworked staff just bc Republicans want to make a statement about ‘fiscal responsibility.’ If that’s the case, they can cut down on staff to pay them well. Or raise the MRA.”
In fact, there’s broad support for increasing existing staff’s pay on Capitol Hill. In a Vox survey of 441 congressional staffers in 2017, 68 percent of senior supervising staff listed “increasing pay for existing staff” as their top priority when asked how they’d allocate increases in office budgets. However, a veteran Democratic staffer noted that both parties have made increasing office budgets politically untenable:
“You can imagine a place where I’m a Democrat, I say, ‘I’m going to go vote for increased budgets [for Congress].’ What are they going to say? The partisans on the outside? Even if I came up with a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat who work together to say, ‘We all need more money for [Congress].’ We both vote for it. We’re going to have the ads that say we just voted to increase our budgets. We [Democrats] doing this. And I have a problem with it. We are attacking [a Republican incumbent] for paying her staff. We demagogue in order to win. Until we fix that problem, I don’t know how you fix [the staff] problem here. And if you’re a Freedom Caucus guy, how do you tell the guy who’s parading out in front of your office in a tri-corner hat that you just voted to increase the budget for Congress? When all they’re doing is saying, ‘Kick the bums out.’”
This bill has six Republican cosponsors.
Of Note: Since 1996, members of the House have had one consolidated allowance, the Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA), to help pay for operating their offices. MRA funds are used for congressional staff pay, official travel, rent and utilities for district offices, communications and franked mail, and office supplies and equipment.
In FY 2019, the MRA was $573.6 million (an increase of $11 million, or two percent, over the FY 2017 and FY 2018 figures of $564.6 million), working out to around $1.3 million per member of Congress. Some members receive more or less money for their offices depending on the districts they represent.
Since the MRA’s establishment, appropriations acts funding it have contained — or, in the case of a continuing resolution, continued — a provision requiring unused amounts in the MRA to be used for deficit reduction or to reduce the federal debt. Numerous bills and resolutions governing the use of unexpended MRA balances, including bills seeking to require leftover MRA funds to go toward deficit reduction, have also been introduced multiple times.
- Sponsoring Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) Press Release
- The Western Journal
- Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report (Context)
- Jezebel (Context)
- Vox (Context)
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Bill Oxford)