Historical Highlights

A pay cut for Representatives during the Great Depression

March 20, 1933
A pay cut for Representatives during the Great Depression Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Sixteen-term House Member John E. Rankin of Mississippi chaired the Committee on World War Veterans' Legislation and its successor Veterans' Affairs.
In response to the financial crisis of the Great Depression, the House on this day approved a bill that reduced the salaries of Representatives and Senators from $9,000 to $8,500 per annum. Combined with a 10 percent congressional salary cut a year earlier, the new measure mirrored government-wide cost-savings efforts. Members’ salary reductions were just part of a massive economy bill that granted President Franklin D. Roosevelt broad authority to reduce all federal salaries by 15 percent, to revise federal pension payouts, and to repeal and completely restructure the benefits system for Spanish-American War and World War I veterans. Members placed their own wage cuts in perspective: “I will vote to reduce them 50 percent, or 75 percent, or any other percent,” declared John Rankin of Mississippi on the House Floor, “rather than see our disabled veterans and their helpless widows and orphans begging bread from door to door.” The measure passed the House 373 to 19, as part of a raft of recovery bills enacted during the first 100 days of the FDR administration. The cumulative 15 percent reduction in salary was the first such reduction in Member salaries in nearly 60 years, dating to the economic turmoil of the Panic of 1873, when Congress reduced Member pay by one-third. For many decades, except for a short one-year period (1816–1817), Senators and Representatives were paid on a per diem basis, until Congress established a $3,000 annual salary commencing with the opening of the 34th Congress (1855–1857).

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