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ArtI.S6.C1.1 Compensation of Members of Congress

Article I, Section 6, Clause 1:

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

The Compensation Clause of Article I, Section 6, Clause 1 provides for the national government to compensate Members of Congress for their services in amounts set by congressional legislation. With the ratification of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment on May 7, 1992,1 congressional legislation “varying” —decreasing or increasing—the level of Members’ compensation may not take effect until an intervening election has occurred.

The Framers’ decision that Members of Congress should be paid from the Treasury of the United States reflected their view that Members of Congress worked for the nation as a whole and should be compensated accordingly. In his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Justice Joseph Story reasoned, “If it be proper to allow a compensation for services to the members of congress, there seems the utmost propriety in its being paid out of the public treasury of the United States. The labor is for the benefit of the nation, and it should properly be remunerated by the nation.” 2 Conversely, if states or constituents compensated their specific Members of Congress, the Members might be more loyal to those interests than to the good of the nation as a whole. Justice Story observed: “[I]f the compensation were to be allowed by the states, or by the constituents of the members, if left to their discretion, it might keep the latter in a state of slavish dependence, and might introduce great inequalities in the allowance.” 3 Concern that state frugality in compensating Members of Congress would reduce the pool of candidates to serve in Congress also drove the Framers’ decision to have the Federal Government compensate Members of Congress. As George Mason of Virginia commented during the Constitutional Convention: “[T]he parsimony of the States might reduce the provision so low that . . . the question would be not who were most fit to be chosen, but who were most willing to serve.” 4

From the Founding to 1967, Congress passed legislation setting its rates of pay. In 1967, Congress passed a law that created a quadrennial commission to propose to the President salary levels for top officials of the Government, including Members of Congress.5 In 1975, Congress legislated to bring Members of Congress within a separate commission system authorizing the President to recommend annual increases for civil servants to maintain pay comparability with private-sector employees.6 Dissenting Members of Congress attacked the use of commissions to set congressional compensation as violating the Compensation Clause mandate that compensation be “ascertained by Law.” Courts, however, rejected these challenges.7 In the Ethics Reform Act of 1989,8

, § 704(a)(1), 103 Stat. 1769, 2 U.S.C. § 4501. Congress provided for a formula to make adjustments to its compensation on an annual basis. Congress, however, has declined to accept the annual adjustment more often than it has accepted the adjustment.9 Following ratification of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment in 1992, which made pay increases effective only after an intervening election, a federal court of appeals panel ruled that Congress’s cost-of-living mechanism did not violate the Twenty-Seventh Amendment, and that a challenge to the quadrennial pay raise provision was not ripe.10

U.S. Const. amend. XXVII ( “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” ). See Twenty-Seventh Amendment discussion at . On September 25, 1789, James Madison proposed text that would become the Twenty-Seventh Amendment to Congress as one of twelve amendments, ten of which the states quickly ratified and comprise the Bill of Rights. The states would ultimately ratify the Twenty-Seventh Amendment on May 7, 1992. See 2 Mark Grossman, Constitutional Amendments 1029, 1031 (2012). back
2 Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 854 (1833). back
Id. back
1 The Records of the Federal Constitution 216 (Max Farrand ed., 1911) (statement of George Mason). See also id. at 372 (with respect to states compensating Members of Congress, Nathanial Gorham stated that he “wished not to refer the matter to the State Legislatures who were always paring down salaries in such a manner as to keep out of offices men most capable of executing the functions of them.” ); id. at 373 ( “those who pay are the masters of those who are paid” ) (statement of Alexander Hamilton). back
Pub. L. No. 90-206, § 225, 81 Stat. 642 (1967), as amended, Pub. L. No. 95-19, § 401, 91 Stat. 45 (1977), as amended, Pub. L. No. 99-190, § 135(e), 99 Stat. 1322 (1985). back
Pub. L. No. 94-82, § 204(a), 89 Stat. 421. back
Pressler v. Simon, 428 F. Supp. 302 (D.D.C. 1976) (three-judge court), aff’d summarily, 434 U.S. 1028 (1978); Humphrey v. Baker, 848 F.2d 211 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 966 (1988). back
Pub. L. No.
, § 704(a)(1), 103 Stat. 1769, 2 U.S.C. § 4501
. back
Ida A. Brudnick, Cong. Rsch. Serv., No. 97-615, Salaries of Members of Congress: Congressional Votes, 1990–2022 (2022), back
Boehner v. Anderson, 30 F.3d 156, 163 (D.C. Cir. 1994). For additional information on how Members of Congress are compensated, see Ida A. Brudnick, Cong. Rsch. Serv., No. 97-1011, Salaries of Members of Congress: Recent Actions and Historical Tables (2022),; Ida A. Brudnick, Cong. Rsch. Serv., No. 97-615, Salaries of Members of Congress: Congressional Votes, 1990–2022 (2022), back