U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, the new apparent frontrunner in the GOP race for the U.S. Senate, is facing a barrage of criticism from one of his Republican rivals over congressional pay raises.
George LeMieux's campaign has claimed at least three times — in a press release, an online ad and in a comment from its spokeswoman — that Mack, a four-term congressman from Southwest Florida, "voted to raise his own pay several times."
Mack's pay certainly has increased, from $162,100 a year when he took office in 2005 to the $174,000 today. But we found that examining LeMieux's claim isn't so clear-cut, largely because Congress probably wanted it that way.
In 1989, Congress passed an ethics reform law that included an annual cost-of-living adjustment. The automatic pay raise was created in exchange for not getting paid for private speeches. The pay raise, based on a formula, is automatic unless Congress takes a vote to stop it. The law — even if it had the best of intentions — created a system where members of Congress receive raises without having to be on-record voting for them.
So how did the LeMieux campaign back up its attack?
Not with votes to raise congressional salaries, as had been claimed, but instead votes to prevent Congress from taking a vote to cancel the automatic pay adjustment.
We'll slow that down. Since the raises are essentially automatic, the only thing Congress can do is stop the raises. In some cases, Congress — and Mack — voted not to vote on a measure to stop the raises.
2005: On June 28, 2005, Congress voted 263-152 with Mack in the majority on "ordering the previous question" to essentially block U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, from introducing a measure to block the pay raise. The vote was on H.R. 342, which related to H.R. 3058, an appropriations bill for transportation and other areas. The practical effect of the vote: Members of Congress would receive a $3,100 pay raise, bringing their salary to $165,000.
Alyson Heyrend, Matheson's spokeswoman, explained the procedural move.
"Matheson each year sought a 'no' vote on a procedural vote on Ordering the Previous Question," she told PolitiFact in an email. "Had a majority voted 'no' he would have then offered his amendment to deny the annual Congressional pay raise. The process is designed to be obscure — which is Matheson's primary concern — that the public isn't able to see Congress take an open, up-or-down vote on whether or not to raise their salaries."
2006: On June 13, 2006, Congress took a similar vote — this time 249-167 with Mack in the majority — on "ordering the previous question" which again halted Matheson's attempt for an up-or-down vote. The vote was on H.R. 865, which related to H.R. 5576, an appropriations bill. The result: Members received a $3,300 raise, increasing their salaries to $168,500.
And then campaign season kicked in. Democrats vowed not to accept the pay raise until Congress approved an increase to the minimum wage.
On Dec. 8, 2006, the House voted 370-20 with Mack in the majority for a stopgap funding measure H.J. 102 until mid February 2007 — delaying the raises. Democrats had planned to offer an amendment to delay the congressional pay raise, so "House GOP leaders decided to include language deferring the pay raise in the bill, taking away the Democrats' ability to make it an issue," Congressional Quarterly Today wrote in an article found in Nexis.
2007: On Jan. 31, 2007, the House voted 286-140 H.J. Res. 20 for continuing appropriations. The summary of the law stated: "(Sec. 115) Prohibits the percentage salary adjustment scheduled to take effect for 2007 for Members of Congress from taking effect." Mack voted no, meaning he voted against the proposal canceling the 2007 raise.
Then on June 27, 2007, the House voted 244-181, with Mack in the majority, on an amendment related to appropriations bill H.R. 2829. The vote, like those in 2005 and 2006, prevented an up-or-down vote on a pay raise, the Associated Press reported.
2008: In 2008, a few lawmakers introduced measures that would have blocked pay raises for 2009, but the measures didn't get very far, allowing the automatic pay raises to kick in for the following year, Fox News reported.
2009: On Feb. 25, 2009, the House took some votes related to an omnibus appropriations act. This time, Mack and a large majority of the House voted "Yes" on H.R. 184, which canceled the annual pay raise. The resolution passed, 398-24.
Later in the day, the House voted 245-178 with Mack voting no on the overall bill.
2010: By 2010, members were eagerly proposing bills to reject pay raises. On April 27, 2010, the House voted 402-15, with Mack in favor, on H.R. 5146 — which plainly spelled out in the title that it would mean Congress would not receive a cost-of-living adjustment in fiscal year 2011. It passed the Senate by unanimous consent. It's worth noting here that LeMieux, appointed to the U.S. Senate in the summer of 2009 and serving throughout 2010, had joined the Senate by the time the tide among lawmakers had swung away from pay raises amid a troubled economy.
And in 2010, Congress froze general service employees base pay through December 2012, meaning member pay was also frozen.
This is an interesting case because Congress essentially created a system in 1989 that — whether by design or not — gives members like Mack some cover. LeMieux is wrong to say Mack voted to raise his pay, because he never did.
Instead, Mack cast procedural votes that effectively allowed automatic pay raises to stand in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The practical effect of those votes meant Mack saw raises.
On the flip side, LeMieux omitted that in 2009 and 2010 Mack voted against pay raises.
To us, that's two caveats that bring our rating to Half True.