Politico Picks Up Flawed National Journal Survey on Congressional Pay, Ignored Damaging Expose on Dems' 'Pay Gap' Hypocrisy

Back in May, a handful of Senate Democrats attempting to open a new offensive front against Republicans in the "War on Women" introduced The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA). "Democrats cited statistics showing that women today are still paid 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, or $10,784 less a year on average. That’s the equivalent of 183 tanks of gas or 92 bags of groceries," Politico's  Matt Wong helpfully noted in a May 23 story.

One day later, the conservative-leaning Washington Free Beacon, published an article which exposed how the very same Senate Democrats out in front on the PFA were egregious violators when it came to a pay gap among members of their own congressional staffs. Reported Andrew Stiles:


A group of Democratic female senators on Wednesday declared war on the so-called “gender pay gap,” urging their colleagues to pass the aptly named Paycheck Fairness Act when Congress returns from recess next month. However, a substantial gender pay gap exists in their own offices, a Washington Free Beacon analysis of Senate salary data reveals.

Of the five senators who participated in Wednesday’s press conference—Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.), Patty Murray (D., Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.)—three pay their female staff members significantly less than male staffers.

Murray, who has repeatedly accused Republicans of waging a “war a women,” is one of the worst offenders. Female members of Murray’s staff made about $21,000 less per year than male staffers in 2011, a difference of 33.8 percent.

That is well above the 23 percent gap that Democrats claim exists between male and female workers nationwide. The figure is based on a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau report, and is technically accurate. However, as CNN’s Lisa Sylvester has reported, when factors such as area of employment, hours of work, and time in the workplace are taken into account, the gap shrinks to about 5 percent.

A significant “gender gap” exists in Feinstein’s office, where women also made about $21,000 less than men in 2011, but the percentage difference—41 percent—was even higher than Murray’s.

Boxer’s female staffers made about $5,000 less, a difference of 7.3 percent.

The Free Beacon used publicly available salary data from the transparency website Legistorm to calculate the figures, and considered only current full-time staff members who were employed for the entirety of fiscal year 2011.

Although Stiles's item proved a hot topic among conservatives among blogs and Twitter, a search of Politico for "Free Beacon" between May 23 and July 16 yielded no results for a story about the paper's shocking findings.

Fast forward to last week, when, playing catch-up, the National Journal took it upon itself to do a broad-based survey of congressional pay and publish their findings.

Like the Free Beacon, National Journal used Legistorm for its data.

Unlike the Free Beacon, however, it appears National Journal used wildly different methodology. For example, it appears National Journal failed to screen out employees who were part-time or who failed to work the entirety of fiscal year 2011. What's more, National Journal did NOT look at pay gaps WITHIN congressional offices, instead calculating annual averages by category such as "all staffers," "all member offices," "House members," etc.

Free Beacon's Andrew Stiles, by contrast, did his pay gap comparisons WITHIN House and Senate staff:

The pay differential is quite striking in some cases, especially among leading Democrats. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), who runs the Senate Democratic messaging operation, paid men $19,454 more on average, a 36 percent difference.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) paid men $13,063 more, a difference of 23 percent.

Other notable Senators whose “gender pay gap” was larger than 23 percent:

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.)—47.6 percent
  • Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.)—40 percent
  • Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.)—34.2 percent
  • Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.)—31.5 percent
  • Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.)—30.4 percent
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.)–29.7 percent
  • Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.)–29.2 percent
  • Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.)—26.5 percent
  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore)—26.4 percent
  • Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa)—23.2 percent

Sen. Sanders, who is an avowed socialist who caucuses with the Democrats, has the worst gender gap by far. He employed more men (14) than women (10), and his chief of staff is male. Like many of his fellow partisans, he has previously accused Republicans of “trying to roll back the clock on women’s rights.”

If and when actual pay discrimination were to occur, it would happen within a congressional office. As such, comparisons of congressional staffer pay must be done intra-office in order to truly be apples-to-apples.

"The biggest challenge in trying to compare pay among Hill aides is the inconsistency of titles. The only way to know if a staff assistant in one congressional office performs the same tasks as a staff assistant in another is to ask them—not exactly efficient, given the 20,000-plus Hill employees," National Journal's Catherine Hollander conceded.

But because National Journal didn't examine staffer pay on an office-by-office basis, Senate Democrats came out in a more positive light than the Free Beacon piece. The resulting difference in the data generate helped National Journal portray Republicans as misers when it came to paying their female staffers

Snarked National Journal's Matt Berman (emphasis mine):

What does $10,000 mean to you? Well, if you made something around the median in the U.S. last year, it could mean more than a fifth of your household income.

But what's $10,000 to you if you're a female Republican congressional staffer? It's about how much less you'd make than the men in your office, according to salary data from LegiStorm.

"As Catherine Hollander notes as part of this week's National Journal magazine cover story, these numbers aren't a perfect science. Additionally, the salary divergence can be largely explained by the gender disparity in high-level congressional jobs--especially among Republicans," Berman noted, adding that, "Women working in Congress tend to have lower-ranking jobs and thus lower salaries. But the salary contrasts are striking when matched to congressional salary data on the whole."

Of course, Stiles made exactly the same point months earlier in his Free Beacon piece:

One possible explanation for the pay disparity is the noticeable preference among Senate Democrats’ for male chiefs of staff, who typically draw the highest congressional salaries. Of the 46 Democratic Senators listing a chief of staff on their payroll in 2011, 13 were women.

At any rate, while Stiles's item was ignored by Politico, Elizabeth Titus blogged the item for Politico's On Congress blog on July 12 (emphasis mine)

The House GOP's female staffers make 84 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn, according to a new National Journal survey of LegiStorm salary data.

Republicans in the lower chamber aren't alone in maintaining a discrepancy in average pay between the women and men in their offices, the survey shows. In both parties and chambers, female staffers earn less than men on average — the gap is as wide as 86 cents to the dollar for female staffers for Senate Republicans, and as narrow as 97 cents to the dollar for women staffing House Democratic offices.

Those gaps translate to a difference of about $10,000 in average annual pay for female House GOP staffers and a difference of about $1,400 for female House Democratic staffers, the survey finds.

Gender pay gaps came under congressional scrutiny not long ago in the form of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which died in the Senate last month. Democrats pushing the bill frequently cited the fact that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. Republicans "warn[ed] of potential adverse effects on businesses" they feared could result from the act.

The survey notes there is a "gender disparity in high-level congressional jobs" that can partly explain the pay gaps. For example, it breaks down the gender ratio of congressional chiefs of staff, finding men outnumber women in each chamber and party in that role. It also finds larger numbers of men in presumably higher-paying leadership offices, "especially among Republicans."

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters