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Amendment XXVII – Compensation of Members of Congress (1992)

The 27th Amendment to the US Constitution states: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.”

The 27th Amendment was originally proposed by James Madison to the First Congress on September 25, 1789 as part of the original Bill of Rights.  Although the proposed amendment passed Congress by the necessary two-thirds vote, three-fourths of the states failed to ratify the measure.  Ratification then remained out of reach for more than 200 years as more states joined the union and several ratification attempts failed. 

Renewed interest in the 27th amendment was sparked in the in 1980s as a result of growing public displeasure with Congressional pay raises.  As a result, in 1982 the amendment caught the attention of Gregory Watson, an aide to a Texas State legislator.  Gregory Watson then spearheaded a decade ling movement to ratify the amendment.  The amendment was finally ratified by the requisite number of states when Michigan became the 38th state to ratify, pushing support for the amendment past the three-fourths requirement.  More than 202 years after its initial submission in 1789, the amendment was declared ratified on May 7, 1992.  The amendment is also called the “Congressional Compensation Amendment of 1789,” the “Congressional Pay Amendment,” and the “Madison Amendment.”

The Twenty-seventh Amendment, which is the most recent amendment to the US Constitution, provides that any change in the salary of members of Congress shall only take effect after the next general election.  Therefore, the Amendment requires that any change in Congressional salaries take effect only after the beginning of the next term of office.  The basic intent of the amendment is to restrain Congress in its power to set its own salary.

Since the adoption of the 27th amendment in 1992, the Amendment has not hindered Congress from receiving nearly annual pay raises.  The pay rises are now termed as “cost of living adjustments” (COLAs) rather than as “pay raises” in the traditional sense of the term.  Therefore, in cases brought under the 27th amendment the Federal Courts have ruled that a COLA is not the same as a pay raise.  Accordingly, by terming their raises as COLAs the members of Congress have been able to enjoy increases in compensation without triggering the restrictions which the 27th amendment sought to impose.

Inside Amendment XXVII – Compensation of Members of Congress (1992)