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Do Members of Congress get Automatic Pay Hikes (COLAs)?


Under the terms of Public Law 101-194, the Government Ethics Reform Act of 1989, lawmakers receive an annual adjustment in pay [a cost of living adjustment or COLA] equal to the change in the government's Employment Cost Index for the fourth quarter of the prior calendar year versus the year before that (this constitutes a one-year time lag between when the pay raise is measured and when it actually takes effect). An automatic provision is made for this pay hike each year, and is self-implementing without any specific vote by Congress (i.e., passage of the overall Treasury appropriations bill enables the raise to occur). However, Members of Congress can, by majority vote, block the pay increase from taking place. This occurred for salary hikes slated for 1994-1997 and for 1999.

P.L. 101-194 also created a new Citizens Commission on Public Service and Compensation to make quadrennial recommendations on salaries for top-level federal officials. However, according to an October 31, 2005 Congressional Service Report, this Commission has not convened.

Members of Congress have linked their own pay increase to that of thousands of other high-ranking personnel in the federal government, including cabinet agency heads and judges.