Senators Divided Over Minimum Salary For Staffers

Jun 8, 2022
8:52 AM

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced last month in a ‘dear colleagues’ letter that beginning September 1 the minimum annual salary for staffers in the lower chamber of Congress will be $45,000.

“With a competitive minimum salary, the House will better be able to retain and recruit excellent, diverse talent,” Pelosi wrote in her letter to House colleagues. “Doing so will open the doors to public service for those who may not have been able to afford to do so in the past.”

Latino Rebels asked Senators this week if the upper chamber of Congress will follow suit by implementing a minimum salary, or “pay floor,” for Senate staffers.

“I can tell you with the cost of living right now for these young folks, I don’t know how they make it the way it is now,” Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) said. “So I’m not going to say no to trying to help these young people to actually be able to have at least enough to be able to survive here in this crazy inflation environment we’ve got here in this country and specifically in Washington, D.C. where they can hardly afford to find a place to even rent, even when you put four or five of them in an apartment.”

Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) echoed Rounds.

“I think we want to make sure people can pay their bills here,” Peters said. “Certainly I make every effort to make sure we’re paying folks appropriately for the work they do.”

Some Senators were less sympathetic to the plight of staffers making what many consider to be extremely low wages.

“I come from the private sector where most people would be thrilled with what people make here,” said Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), who considers a minimum pay threshold for staffers to be “not necessary.”

Richard Shelby (R-AL) said he hadn’t given a pay floor for Senate staffers any thought.

“We try to pay people well on work habits, ability, and everything that goes with it regardless, and we’ve never had any problem,” he said.

“I take responsibility for the compensation of my own staff and don’t need the House of Representatives telling me how to pay them,” Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) noted.

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) dismissed the Pelosi letter as a non-issue.

“Basically you have 100 separate employers with a pay ceiling and a budget that they deal with,” he said. “I don’t have anybody that makes less than $45,000 in my office. Whether we need a pay floor or not has never come up as a topic until the House decided to do it.”

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) echoed Blunt.

“No one in our office makes less than [$45,000],” the former two-time Democratic presidential candidate said. “I think that’s a good thing.”

“I would rather run my own operation” as opposed to a uniform pay floor, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) explained, adding that “we try really hard to treat people fairly and pay them well.”

“My focus generally has been on intern pay,” said Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) when asked if he supports a minimum wage for staffers in the Senate. “That’s what I’ve been working on for the last three or four years, but [a pay floor] sounds good to me, too.”

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was also supportive of a pay floor for staff but with one caveat.

“If they give us the money, I have no problem with that,” Menendez said, “As long as they give us the money.”

“I would most certainly look seriously at something if they decided they wanted to change their pay scales here for these young people because they could use all the help they could get on this,” Rounds added. “We can’t operate our offices without these young people.”


Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports