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Lawmaker calls Congress 'underpaid', objects to salary freeze

U.S. Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) talks to a television reporter during interviews in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 1
U.S. Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) talks to a television reporter during interviews in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 1

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers have quietly gone along with an annual salary freeze since 2010, but a Virginia Democrat has had enough and said members of Congress are underpaid.

Representative Jim Moran, who is not seeking re-election in November, has objected to fiscal 2015 spending legislation that calls for another pay freeze for Congress, keeping lawmakers' salaries at $174,000 a year.

"I think the American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid," Moran told CQ Roll Call, a congressional newspaper and website. "I understand that it's widely felt that they underperform, but the fact is that this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world."

He said that in Washington, D.C., where housing is expensive, some lawmakers live out of their offices to save money, while maintaining homes in their legislative districts. Others live in tiny one-room apartments.

Moran intends to offer an amendment to the Legislative Branch appropriations bill that would provide a per diem allowance for lawmakers to help cover Washington housing costs.

A Moran aide said this would not affect the congressman personally given his plans to retire and because the close proximity of his suburban Virginia district means he does not need a second residence.

"Mr. Moran wants to ensure Americans aren't priced out of holding elected office in Congress by the cost of maintaining a separate household in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country," the aide said. "The job shouldn't be limited to those who can afford the cost of living in DC."

Despite foregoing the scheduled $2,800 cost-of-living increase this year, lawmakers still earn more than three times the U.S. median household income of $53,046 listed by the Census Bureau.

Moran, who represents the Washington suburbs of Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia, is among the less well-heeled in Congress, listing a net worth of between $1,001 and $15,000 on his 2012 federal financial disclosure statement, which excludes property values.

In 2004, Moran described himself as one of the "poorest" members of Congress after racking up large losses in financial options trading.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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