Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Double Whopper Against King

A TV ad from Democrat Jim Mowrer claims Iowa Rep. Steve King “did vote to raise his own pay by $20,000 a year and take perks like free health care for life.” That’s a double whopper.

  • There was no vote to raise congressional pay by “$20,000 a year,” as the ad’s narrator says. That’s about how much salaries for members of Congress have automatically increased since King, a Republican, was first elected in 2002.
  • There also was no vote to “take perks like free health care for life.” King voted for a House budget proposal that called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. If the health care law were repealed, members of Congress would once again obtain their health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, but it wouldn’t be at no cost to them.

Mowrer is challenging King for his 4th District House seat. King has threatened to pull out of an Oct. 23 debate if the Mowrer campaign doesn’t pull the ad, which was still running as of Oct. 8, according to Kantar Media Intelligence’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Pay Raises

The ad’s narrator knocks King for not supporting a minimum wage increase, and says, “he did vote to raise his own pay by $20,000 a year.” That’s false — there was no such vote.

Since 1989, pay for Congress has automatically increased each year unless members pass legislation blocking the salary hike. The amount of the increase is determined by a formula based on private sector wages.

The ad cites King’s vote against H.Res. 184 in February 2009. It was a vote on a rule allowing for consideration of H.R. 1105, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, without amendments. King voted against both the resolution, which passed on a 398-to-4 vote, and the appropriations bill, which passed on a vote of 245 to 178.

The $410 billion spending bill did include a provision — added by H.Res. 184 — rejecting the pay raise scheduled to take effect in January 2010. But the amount of the increase wasn’t $20,000. Instead, it was to be a much smaller bump of $2,610. King’s campaign says his was “a vote against a broken House procedure barring all amendments on a huge spending bill,” and not a vote for a raise.

We thought the “$20,000 a year” claim might have been a mistake, so we reached out to the Mowrer campaign for an explanation. We were told by a spokesman that the figure refers to how much salaries for members of Congress have increased since 2003, which was King’s first year in Congress. That year, most members of Congress made $154,700. From there, Congress received a salary adjustment in six of the seven years from 2003 through 2009, when the salary for most members of Congress was raised to $174,000. So, now King is making nearly $20,000 more a year than he was in 2003.

Since 2009, Congress has consistently voted to block its annual pay raises. As a result, members’ salaries have not kept up with inflation. When adjusted for inflation, King’s 2003 salary would have the buying power of $199,977 in 2014. That’s almost $26,000 more than he currently makes.

Now, each year from 2003 to 2007, King did vote in favor of House resolutions with rules — similar to those he now decries — that had the effect of blocking any amendments to appropriations bills, including ones that could have potentially kept the increases from taking place. That’s according to a 2011 Congressional Research Service report on votes affecting congressional salaries. But it’s impossible to know whether amendments to prevent the increases would have passed had they been allowed.

No Free Health Care

The ad’s narrator also says that King voted to “take perks like free health care for life.” There was no vote on that, either.

The ad cites King’s vote in favor of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2013. That proposal called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, among other things. If that happened, members of Congress would no longer be required to purchase their insurance coverage through the exchanges created by the health care law. Instead, they would be able to return to receiving their insurance coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. That still wouldn’t mean “free health care for life” for federal lawmakers.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, the federal government, on average, paid 72 percent of health insurance premiums for its employees, including members of Congress. But that’s still not the entire premium.

Based on a final rule issued by the Office of Personnel Management in 2013, members of Congress are eligible to return to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program upon retirement, according to a Congressional Research Service report on their health benefits. But even as federal retirees, they would still be responsible for paying the same premiums as active federal employees. So, again, there would be no “free health care for life.”

— D’Angelo Gore