Lawmaker’s plan to limit ‘sweet deals’ for Congress shelved

By: - February 17, 2021 12:21 pm

The U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Getty Images)

An Iowa state representative’s attempt to limit pay and benefits for members of Congress through a constitutional amendment was quickly shelved by a legislative subcommittee Wednesday. 

Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, introduced House Joint Resolution 3. The measure calls for an amendment under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. The amendment would prevent Congress from exempting itself from federal laws, remove benefits members receive after leaving office, limit pay raises, eliminate a congressional health care system and require members to participate in Social Security and to purchase retirement plans.

State Rep. John Wills is a Republican from Spirit Lake.

In an interview, Wills said there appears to be stronger support for House Joint Resolution 9 in the Iowa Legislature. That bill calls for Iowa to join other states in calling for a constitutional convention “expressly limited to consideration and support of amendments that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, and amendments that limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.”

Wills said his support of both measures came out of a general desire to rein in Congress.

“My thought is our founders never figured on lifetime politicians sitting in Congress,” Wills said. 

“What is happening is those lifetime politicians are passing some sweet deals for themselves and acting more like rulers than legislators.  For example they passed the Affordable Care Act a number of years ago and exempted themselves from it. Well, the average guy on the street doesn’t get that option,” Wills said. “I am adamantly opposed to special treatment for legislators — the rule makers. 

“This is an attempt to drain the swamp, just a little bit,” Wills said. “It will discourage people from sitting in those seats for 40 years without term limits.”

Wills didn’t mention him, but U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has served in the House and Senate for a combined 47 years. He is among the longest-serving senators.

At Wednesday’s 10-minute subcommittee meeting, Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City, said the House Joint Resolution wasn’t needed. Congress hasn’t changed its own pay since 1991.

State Rep. Christina Bohannan is a Democrat from Iowa City.

Members of Congress now get raises through an automatic system that limits the percentage to what general federal employees are getting. But legislation has blocked congressional raises since January 2009, when salaries rose to $174,000, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Without legislation freezing their pay, members of Congress would be making $218,600 now, CRS reported.

All that makes Wills’ proposal ill-advised, Bohannan said.

“I think this is not at all necessary,” Bohannan said. “I think that political pressure on Congress will keep them in check, as they have over the last 30 years.”

The leader of the subcommittee, Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, agreed that HJR 3 was unnecessary. “I’m not exactly positive that the language in HJR 3 prevents our delegates from doing more than what we intend to send them to do on our behalf,” Lundgren said.

Lundgren then pulled the bill from consideration by the House State Government Committee.

No lobbyists or members of the public spoke about the measure at Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting. 

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.