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The Highest- and Lowest-Paying Positions in Congress

Andrew Lisa
·13 min read
lucky-photographer / Getty Images/iStockphoto
lucky-photographer / Getty Images/iStockphoto

The two special Senate runoff elections that allowed Democrats to consolidate their power and retain their House majority after Joe Biden won the presidency were the most expensive Congressional races in history. One cost $363 million and the other cost $470 million.

Find Out: How Elected Officials Have Made Millions by Being in Office

Although campaigns spend big money to elect lawmakers, the paychecks that members of Congress receive once in office aren’t nearly as impressive as their fundraising hauls. The Constitution requires members of Congress to set their own pay—a nice perk, to say the least.

Here’s a look at the most important positions in the Senate and House of Representatives and what each of them pay the public servants who hold them.

Last updated: Feb. 1, 2021

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock (10542756a)In this image from video, as presiding officer Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts listens Senate chaplain retired Navy Adm.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock (10542756a)In this image from video, as presiding officer Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts listens Senate chaplain retired Navy Adm.

Chaplain of the Senate

  • Annual Salary: $160,787

The Right Rev. Samuel Provost, Episcopal Bishop of New York, was elected as the very first Senate chaplain in 1789. Today the nonsectarian, nonpartisan Office of the Chaplain is headed by Barry C. Black, whose duties include counseling and offering spiritual guidance to senators, their families, and staffs, which includes more than 6,000 people. Most visibly, he leads the opening prayer each day in the Senate.

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Washington, DC, USA - July 18, 2017: A United States Senate committee hearing room.
Washington, DC, USA - July 18, 2017: A United States Senate committee hearing room.

Senate Parliamentarian

  • Annual Salary: $171,315

The Parliamentarian acts as the interpreter of the rules and procedures of the Senate, helps to arbitrate disputes, and ensures that both parties play by the same rules. The current Parliamentarian is Elizabeth MacDonough. Appointed to the role in 2012 by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, she is the first woman to hold the post in U.S. history.

Learn More: Here’s How Much You Need To Earn To Be ‘Rich’ in Every State

Young woman in coat sitting looking at view of United States Congress Capitol building, golden orange yellow foliage autumn fall trees on street during sunny day in Washington DC.
Young woman in coat sitting looking at view of United States Congress Capitol building, golden orange yellow foliage autumn fall trees on street during sunny day in Washington DC.

House Chief Administrative Officer

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

The Chief Administration Officer is responsible for providing support services to the entire House and the 10,000 or so staff members who support its members. That includes administrative support, technical and operational support, and advising services. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just appointed Catherine Szpindor, who has 10 years of experience working in the House, to replace outgoing CAO Philip G. Kiko. She is the first woman ever to hold the position.

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Julio Cortez/AP/Shutterstock (10527249p)House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Clerk of the House Cheryl Johnson deliver the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to Secretary of the Senate Julie Adams on Capitol Hill in Washington, .
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Julio Cortez/AP/Shutterstock (10527249p)House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Clerk of the House Cheryl Johnson deliver the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to Secretary of the Senate Julie Adams on Capitol Hill in Washington, .

House Clerk

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

The Office of the Clerk handles everything from calling roll to distributing reports to members and affixing the seal of the House to all formal documents issued by the chamber. The clerk is elected every other year when the House organizes the newly elected Congress. The role is currently filled by the Hon. Cheryl L. Johnson, who was sworn in by Nancy Pelosi In February 2019. She is the 36th individual to hold the position.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Melina Mara/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (11715415aa)Lawmakers' staff and Sergeant at Arms staff like Timothy Blodgett, Acting House Sergeant at Arms, run through the movements during rehearsal for the 59th Inauguration Ceremonies on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 18 January 2021.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Melina Mara/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (11715415aa)Lawmakers' staff and Sergeant at Arms staff like Timothy Blodgett, Acting House Sergeant at Arms, run through the movements during rehearsal for the 59th Inauguration Ceremonies on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 18 January 2021.

House Sergeant at Arms

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

The House Sergeant at Arms serves in essentially the same capacity as his counterpart in the Senate, acting as the chamber’s chief officer for law enforcement and protocol, tasked with reviewing and implementing anything involving the security and safety of members of the Congress.

The role was in the spotlight recently for all the wrong reasons when an insurrectionist mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an act of domestic terrorism, bludgeoning police officers to death and destroying property. In the wake of the attack, Paul D. Irving stepped down from the position, which was then filled by Timothy P. Blodgett on an acting basis.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Shutterstock (11727212d)In this image from United States Senate television, Jennifer A.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Shutterstock (11727212d)In this image from United States Senate television, Jennifer A.

Senate Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

The original role of doorkeeper was first filled by James T. Mathers in 1789, but it has since evolved into the position of sergeant at arms and doorkeeper. The post was held by Michael C. Stenger, but like his counterpart in the House, he resigned after domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol in a murderous rampage that was instigated by top GOP Congressional leaders and the president himself. One day later on Jan. 7, Deputy Sergeant at Arms Jennifer Hemingway took over the post.

United States Capitol Building Rotunda w/ George Washington Sepia Black & White - Low angle to Dome - Washington DC.
United States Capitol Building Rotunda w/ George Washington Sepia Black & White - Low angle to Dome - Washington DC.

Chaplain of the House

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

The primary duty of the House Chaplain is to offer a prayer at the beginning of the day’s business in the House, however they are also responsible for coordinating guest chaplains, offering pastoral services to House members of all faiths, and maintaining the Congressional Prayer Room in the Capitol Rotunda.

The current Chaplain of the House is Margaret Grun Kibben, who enjoyed a long and distinguished career with the Navy, where she counseled and provided spiritual services to many of that branch’s top leaders.

United States House of Representatives interior chambers
United States House of Representatives interior chambers

House Legislative Counsel

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

Much like its counterpart in the Senate, the Office of the Legislative Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives helps members of Congress draft the language of their bills, amendments, and resolutions.

The current House legislative counsel is Ernest Wade Ballou Jr., a role he’s served in since being appointed by Speaker Paul Ryan. He brought some three decades of experience in legislative drafting to the role

Washington D.
Washington D.

Senate Legal Counsel

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

The Office of Senate Legal Counsel is, simply put, the lawyer who offers legal advice to members of the Senate and defends them in court when necessary. Established in 1978 by way of Title VII of the Ethics in Government Act, the role is filled by appointment from the president pro tempore.

United States Capitol building
United States Capitol building

Senate Legislative Counsel

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

Also appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate, the Senate Legislative Counsel helps senators of both parties and their staff write bills, resolutions and amendments. The Legislative Drafting Service was established by the Revenue Act of 1918, but while the House Office of Legislative Counsel was given its own charter in 1970, the Senate office remains under the original statute.

The current Senate Legislative Counsel is Charles Armstrong.

A sign marks an entrance to the United States Senate in the US Capitol building.
A sign marks an entrance to the United States Senate in the US Capitol building.

Secretary of the Senate

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

The Secretary of the Senate supervises many different offices and services to ensure that the day-to-day business of the Senate runs smoothly. Established in April 1789, the role of the office has expanded considerably along with the size of the government. The current Secretary of the Senate is Julie E. Adams, who started her career as a staffer for Sen. Mitch McConnell and later served as the spokesperson for First Lady Laura Bush. She was elected to her current position on January 6, 2015.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Susan Walsh/AP/Shutterstock (10237136a)Attorney Douglas Letter, who is representing House Democrats, leaves federal court in WashingtonTrump Taxes, Washington, USA - 14 May 2019.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Susan Walsh/AP/Shutterstock (10237136a)Attorney Douglas Letter, who is representing House Democrats, leaves federal court in WashingtonTrump Taxes, Washington, USA - 14 May 2019.

General Counsel to the House

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

The Office of the General Counsel of the United States House of Representatives provides legal advice and assistance to House members and their staff. The current general counsel is Douglas N. Letter, who has been in the position since Jan. 2019. He was formerly with the U.S. Dept. of Justice, where he concluded his 40-year career there as Director of the Civil Division Appellate Staff.

Fragment of the inside of dome of the Capitol Building in Washington DC.
Fragment of the inside of dome of the Capitol Building in Washington DC.

Director of Interparliamentary Affairs

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

The Office of Interparliamentary Affairs — working with the Sergeant at Arms and the Clerk — coordinates official visits to the House by members of legislative branches in other countries. The office also coordinates other visits between members of the house and other legislative bodies.

The United States Capitoldome background in retro style.
The United States Capitoldome background in retro style.

House Inspector General

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

The Office of the Inspector General was created in 1992 and is tasked with making recommendations for improving the performance, accountability, and integrity of House operations. That includes financial, administrative, and technology-based functions, and the office conducts independent audits in addition to providing nonpartisan advisory and investigative services.

The role is currently held by Michael Ptasienski, the fifth person to fill the role. Ptasienski — a 10-year veteran of the Office of the Inspector General — had previously held the role on an interim basis since October.

House of Representatives.
House of Representatives.

House Parliamentarian

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

Much like the Parliamentarian for the Senate, the House Parliamentarian is essentially the arbitrator of the House’s rules and procedures, a role that’s been appointed by the Speaker of the House since 1927.

In September, Thomas J. Wickham retired from the post and was replaced by Jason Smith, who had previously been the Deputy House Parliamentarian.

"The United States Capitol in Washington DC, USA.
"The United States Capitol in Washington DC, USA.

House Law Revision Counsel

  • Annual Salary: $172,500

The Office of the Law Revision Counsel has the unenviable task of preparing and publishing the United States Code, the enormous consolidation of all permanent laws in the United States. That means presenting a complete compilation of the code, one title at a time, to the Committee on the Judiciary, examining all public laws enacted by Congress to determine which laws are redundant and can be repealed, and preparing a new edition of the United States Code for annual cumulative supplements.

The office is currently being led by Ralph V. Seep.

Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez delivers speech
Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez delivers speech

Representative

  • Annual Salary: $174,000

Each of the 435 members of the House of Representatives is directly elected by the members of their districts to serve as their voice in Washington. The Constitution calls for members of Congress to set their own pay, and the current wages of $174,000 a year were established by an automatic 2.8 percent raise in January of 2009 as outlined in the Ethics Reform Act of 1989.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Shutterstock (10750769aa)In this image from the Democratic National Convention video feed, United States Senator Tammy Duckworth (Democrat of Illinois) makes remarks on the last night of the convention.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Shutterstock (10750769aa)In this image from the Democratic National Convention video feed, United States Senator Tammy Duckworth (Democrat of Illinois) makes remarks on the last night of the convention.

Senator

  • Annual Salary: $174,000

Each state elects two U.S. Senators to represent it in the upper chamber, each for a six-year term. Direct election of senators has only been in place since the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1912. Initially, the Constitution called for them to be appointed by state legislatures.

While the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 established an automatic annual adjustment to congressional salaries based on the Employment Cost Index, Congress has voted not to allow scheduled pay raises to go through each year since 2009, freezing salaries at that $174,000 level.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock (10622439cu)In this image from video, Rep.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock (10622439cu)In this image from video, Rep.

Senate Minority Leader

  • Annual Salary: $193,400

The role of the party floor leaders in Congress isn’t outlined in the Constitution, but it has developed over the years as a practical measure to ensure the smooth functioning of the institution. The floor leaders are each elected by the members of their party at the start of each new Congress.

Right now, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell—one of the shrewdest and longest-tenured power brokers in Washington—is reluctantly settling into his new role of Senate minority leader. He had served as majority leader during the tenure of Donald Trump and was demoted to his new position after the GOP’s stunning double defeat in the recent Georgia Senate runoff elections. A wily political survivor, McConnell has switched back and forth between the two roles since ascending to the top in 2006 but has been in the Senate since 1985.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Susan Walsh/AP/Shutterstock (11734518a)House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Susan Walsh/AP/Shutterstock (11734518a)House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif.

House Minority Leader

  • Annual Salary: $193,400

The House minority leader is usually the most prominent member of the House caucus for the party not currently in power. While there are other party leadership roles — like whips or committee chairs — they don’t have a higher salary written into law.

The current House minority leader is Calif. Rep. Kevin McCarthy. He previously served as House majority leader when the GOP was in power under House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (C) speaks as Democratic Senator from Illinois Dick Durbin (L) and Democratic Senator from Michigan Debbie Stabenow (R) keep their social distancing during a press conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, 17 March 2020.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (C) speaks as Democratic Senator from Illinois Dick Durbin (L) and Democratic Senator from Michigan Debbie Stabenow (R) keep their social distancing during a press conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, 17 March 2020.

Senate Majority Leader

  • Annual Salary: $193,400

In the Senate, the party leader elected by members of the majority holds the most powerful role in the body. The Senate majority leader works with committee chairs to schedule Senate business and call bills to the floor from the calendar and coordinate with the minority leader when appropriate.

After the Democratic sweep in Georgia, N.Y. Sen. Chuck Schumer ascended to the Senate’s equivalent of the throne as Mitch McConnell was banished to the minority. A Brooklyn native who travels to all of New York’s 62 counties every year, Schumer was elected to Congress when he was just 29 years old.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Dominick Sokotoff/Shutterstock (11721158ad)House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Dominick Sokotoff/Shutterstock (11721158ad)House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

House Majority Leader

  • Annual Salary: $193,400

Unlike the Senate majority leader — who exercises considerable control over the chamber — the House majority leader’s main role is in support of the Speaker, helping to handle the day-to-day management of the party caucus.

The current House majority leader is Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer. The second-ranking Democrat in the House behind only House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Hoyer has been a Congressman since 1981.

OXLEY Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
OXLEY Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Senate President Pro Tempore

  • Annual Salary: $193,400

The president pro tempore is elected by the body to act as the president of the Senate when the vice president — the official president of the Senate — is not available. Since 1890, the president pro tempore holds the office continuously until a successor is elected, almost always due to retirement, death, or a change in the majority party.

While the majority leader holds considerably more power in the Senate, the president pro tempore is the one in the presidential line of succession, taking over the Oval Office should the president, vice president, and speaker of the house all be unable to fulfill their duties.

The role is currently filled by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who replaced Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley when the balance of power shifted in January.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (11706185b)Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi bangs the gavel after presiding over the House of Representatives as it voted to impeach Donald J.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (11706185b)Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi bangs the gavel after presiding over the House of Representatives as it voted to impeach Donald J.

Speaker of the House

  • Annual Salary: $223,500

Not only is the Speaker third in line for succession to the presidency, but the role is specifically defined by the U.S. Constitution, the only position in this study that’s in the founding document.

As the parliamentary leader of the body, the speaker has the power to control much of the legislative agenda for the chamber. The position is elected by the House, so while it has almost always been a member of the majority party, virtually anyone could win the role whether they’re in the House or not.

The current Speaker is Calif. Sen. Nancy Pelosi, who—like her colleague across the aisle in the other chamber, Mitch McConnell—is a canny political operator who has endured through the decades. Also like McConnell, her skill and undeniable legislative successes have elevated her to a hero’s status among her own party while leaving her largely reviled by her political opponents.

Washington DC, United States landmark.
Washington DC, United States landmark.

The Highest- and Lowest-Paying Positions in Congress

Generally speaking, there isn’t a big discrepancy in pay between the upper and lower chambers of Congress. Whereas the Speaker of the House receives the highest annual pay, followed by the president pro tempore and the majority and minority leaders, nearly all other members of the House of Representatives and Senate receive between $172,500 to $174,000 per year. The Senate Chaplain is the low-paid outlier with a still-respectable $160,787 annual salary.

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Joel Anderson contributed to the reporting for this article.

Methodology: In order to discover how much Congress members make, GOBankingRates used the Congressional Research Service report, “Congressional Salaries and Allowances: In Brief” to find (1) the annual salary of all 24 Offices, Appointees, and Elected officials across both branches of the United states Congress. GOBankingRates also pulled brief descriptions of each role from corresponding .gov websites. All data was collected on and up to date as of December 15, 2020.

Photo note: Some of the images in this article are representational.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: The Highest- and Lowest-Paying Positions in Congress