On this day in 1933, just over two weeks after President Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn into office during the Great Depression, the House voted to cut the salaries of representatives and senators from $9,000 to $8,500 a year. Combined with a 10 percent congressional salary cut that had been approved a year earlier, the measure mirrored governmentwide cost-savings efforts aimed at stemming the financial crisis.
Members’ salaries after reductions — in today’s dollars, equivalent to about $132,000 — were included in legislation granting Roosevelt broad authority to reduce federal salaries by 15 percent, to revise pension payouts and to restructure the benefits system for Spanish-American War and World War I veterans. It was part of a legislative gusher that streamed out of the U.S. Capitol in the first 100 days of FDR’s administration aimed at restoring public confidence.
“I will vote to reduce [congressional salaries by] 50 percent, or 75 percent, or any other percent,” Rep. John Rankin (D-Miss.) said on the House floor, “rather than see our disabled veterans and their helpless widows and orphans begging bread from door to door.” At the time, Rankin, who was elected to Congress in 1920 and went on to serve 16 consecutive terms, chaired the Committee on World War Veterans’ Legislation.
House members voted 373 to 19 to cut their pay. Cumulatively, it was the first time in 60 years that legislative salaries were reduced: During the Panic of 1873, the lawmakers had cut their pay by one-third.
Until 1855, except for a brief period in 1816-17, members of Congress were paid on a per diem basis. Congress set a $3,000 annual salary starting with the 34th Congress in 1855. Since 2009, the salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate has remained $174,000 a year, plus benefits.
Members of the leadership are paid more. The speaker of the House earns $223,500 a year, a $500 increment over the salary of the vice president. The majority leader and minority leaders of the House are paid $193,900 annually, while their counterparts in the Senate, and the Senate’s president pro tem, earn $500 less, or $193,400.
Members of Congress obtain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. They pay the same payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security as do all other workers.
Congressional pensions, like those of other federal employees, are financed through a combination of employee and employer contributions. The lawmakers are eligible for a pension at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. They are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service.
The amount of the pension benefit depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary, but may not exceed 80 percent of the member‘s final salary.