House Grudgingly Accepts a Pay Raise, as Usual

After engineering a minimum-wage increase, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer reportedly endorsed the pay raise.
After engineering a minimum-wage increase, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer reportedly endorsed the pay raise. (Nikki Kahn - The Washington Post)
By Lois Romano
Thursday, June 28, 2007

Democrats have for weeks been privately wringing their hands over whether to accept an automatic 2.5 percent pay increase, fretting that the raise may appear inconsistent with their campaign promises.

But last night, the House made its peace with it, rejecting a bid to block the automatic cost-of-living raise of about $4,400 on a 244 to 181 vote.

Sources say Majority Leader Steny Hoyer supported accepting a bump in the $165,200-per-year salary since the Democrats kept their word by quickly pushing through the first federal minimum-wage increase in nearly a decade after taking power in January.

But Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel-- ever conscious of ensuring that Democrats stay in power -- was said to be a bit skittish about it, because Democrats made the raise a big issue during the elections. The Illinois congressman has long donated his salary increases to charity.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, with Emanuel at the helm last year, ran ads attacking Republicans for accepting automatic pay increases while voting against a minimum-wage increase -- a move that infuriated the GOP. "There has been an unspoken agreement between the parties that the leadership could bring the pay raise up and allow people to vote their conscience, but the members would not use it as a campaign issue," said one GOP aide, adding that Republicans are still mighty angry.

The cost-of-living increases for Congress are automatic by permanent law, and have for years been in the fine print of an appropriations bill, which also gives civil servants a COLA increase. Having the measure lumped with other legislation insulates the members from specifically voting on a raise just for themselves.

Members must actively vote to block the raise to stop it. As he has in the past, Democrat Jim Matheson of Utah moved to hold a direct vote to block the increase -- and his motion was defeated by a majority of both parties, as it has been in the past. The vote ends up being the only public record for members on the issue.

So by voting against Matheson's proposal last night, the House gave itself a pay raise.

"If you and I sat down and read the bill, we probably couldn't even find the language that authorizes the raises," said Matheson, who also gives his increase to charity. "I think it is important that we have an up-or-down vote just on the raise -- that what we do is transparent. It shouldn't be buried in an appropriations bill."

The issue was so touchy for Democrats that all staff was kicked out of a recent leadership meeting where it was discussed, sources say.

Supreme Court justices have also been advocating to increase the salaries of federal judges. A bipartisan group of senators has a bill pending to increase the salaries of all federal judges by 16.5 percent and to end the linkage of congressional pay to judicial pay, so that Congress's decision to deny itself pay raises wouldn't affect judges.

Dingellsaurus Under Siege, the grass-roots group that has actively opposed the Iraq war, went after a new target yesterday: the most senior member of the House, whom it accused of being out of touch on energy issues. A new radio spot airing in Democratic Rep. John Dingell's Michigan district over the next few days assails the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for not stepping up to combat global warming, flagging what it calls the "Dingellsaurus Energy Bill."

But Dingell didn't get to be the dean of the House Democrats without staying a step ahead of the game. As his committee began marking up a complicated energy package yesterday, Dingell announced that his legislation seeks to cut greenhouse gas emissions 60 to 80 percent by 2050 -- an aggressive target backed by many in his party.

"We should set ambitious goals and targets for that legislation," Dingell said. "It should stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at levels that will avoid or avert large-scale climate change consequences. That will require a reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions of between 60, and perhaps as much as 80, percent by 2050."

Dennis Fitzgibbons, chief of staff to the committee, said there's no basis for suggesting Dingell is not committed to fuel efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "For someone supposedly not serious, he's sure putting a lot of time and energy and personal resources into a frivolous endeavor."

Hours after MoveOn activists staged demonstrations in Dingell's district wearing Dino costumes, MoveOn campaign director Ilyse Hogue praised Dingell's comments as a "good thing. A clean energy economy is good for jobs -- that's where we want his leadership."

Jodi Seth, Dingell's spokeswoman, brushed aside the publicity stunt: "Hot air from clubs like MoveOn does nothing to solve the climate-change problem."

Notables . . .

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has hired Martina Bradford to fill a newly created post of senior adviser for human resources, to help Senate Democrats build a more diverse staff. A spokesman for Reid said that the job was not created because of a lack of diversity among staffers but to help senators identify talented minorities for Hill careers. Bradford, a lawyer, came from Akin Gump. Before working at the law firm, she was Lucent Technologies' corporate vice president for global public affairs. "The job is basically to offer the caucus guidance in recruiting and retaining minority staff for all positions," said Rodell Mollineau, Reid's director of communications. "Some offices do great in this area, and others want to be doing better. She'll be a resource for everyone in helping to build relationships and networking. She has a big pipeline." . . . Longtime Republican operative Karen Knutson has been named administrative assistant to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She comes from the Business Software Alliance, where she serves as vice president of government relations. Knutson, who grew up in Alaska, is best known for having been deputy assistant to Vice President Cheney for domestic policy during Bush's first term. . . . Superlobbyist Jeffrey Weiss is moving to Global Policy Partners, as a senior vice president, a firm headquartered in London with a major D.C. presence. Weiss's other half is high-profile GOP mover about town, Juleanna Glover Weiss, an official at the Ashcroft Group.

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