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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Cherry-Picking McConnell’s Pay Raise Votes

A Democratic TV ad attacking Sen. Mitch McConnell for voting to “raise his own pay four times” simply ignores other votes he has cast to prevent automatic pay increases for members of Congress. Most recently, he supported measures that blocked pay increases in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The ad, called “Switch,” was launched June 20 by the Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA. It’s the first of the “30 Years Is Too Long Campaign,” which the groups plan to continue through Election Day in 2014, “to show Kentuckians that after McConnell’s 30 years in Washington, it is time to switch.”

The ad, which the groups described as a “major television buy” in Kentucky, asks, “How long is too long in Washington?” And it repeatedly shows a clip of McConnell, from a U.S. Senate campaign debate in 2008, saying, “I’ve lived on a government salary for 30 years.”

But the ad provides an incomplete picture on the issue of congressional pay raises. The Senate minority leader’s voting history on pay hikes is a mixed bag.

Under current law, members of Congress are subject to receive an annual cost-of-living adjustment to their salaries. The amount of the increase is determined by a formula based on private sector wages. And the adjustment happens automatically unless members pass legislation to cancel the increase.

The ad cites McConnell’s vote against a 2009 appropriations bill with a provision eliminating the pay raise scheduled to take effect in 2010. And votes he cast in 2001, 2002 and 2003 to block amendments to bills that would have prevented adjustments in fiscal years 2002, 2003 and 2004, respectively.

That’s all true, but the ad disregards votes McConnell cast before and since then that have denied annual pay increases:

Going back even further, McConnell, in 1995, voted for H.Con.Res. 67, a budget resolution with a provision to freeze member pay for seven years. That provision, however, was later dropped in conference negotiations, according to the Congressional Research Service. And in 1994, he supported an amendment to a bill (which was rejected) to reduce the pay of members of Congress by 15 percent.

It is difficult to say what role the pay increases played in McConnell’s votes on the larger spending bills. For instance, McConnell said that he voted against the Omnibus Appropriations Act in 2009 because it contained too much spending, not because of the provision to stop the pay raise for Congress. Nonetheless, it is possible to find examples of McConnell — over his long career in the Senate — both allowing and rejecting automatic pay raises for Congress.

— D’Angelo Gore, with Justin Cohen