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House, Moving Quickly, Approves Cost-of-Living Increase for Lawmakers

By John E. Yang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 18, 1997; Page A19

Working with unusual haste, the House backed a cost-of-living raise in congressional pay yesterday, catching opponents to the politically sensitive increase flat-footed.

Lawmakers took about 50 minutes to consider the bill, which would fund the Treasury Department and general government operations for the year beginning Oct. 1. They voted 231 to 192 to approve the measure, which did not contain a provision that has become routine in recent years exempting lawmakers from the inflation adjustment that federal law provides them.

The Senate voted in July to waive the inflation adjustment, so the matter will be decided in House-Senate negotiations on the spending bill.

The pay issue was never mentioned during the House debate, which received unusual attention from House GOP leaders. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and aides to other leaders patrolled the floor while the bill was being considered.

While opponents complained afterward that they had not been given adequate notice that the bill was coming to the floor, none of them sought to slow the bill's progress. House leaders, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), had approved the decision to bring up the bill quickly and in such a way that would have blocked any attempt to exempt the lawmakers from the pay adjustment.

Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.), who heads the GOP's House campaign committee, said he thought it was a bad idea. "It's one more issue we don't need to have," he said.

A majority of Republicans voted against the bill as Democrats provided a majority of the votes in favor of the measure. Leaders in both parties supported it. Gingrich, as is the normal practice for the speaker, did not vote. He had already left Washington for a major GOP fund-raising dinner at the Hammerstein Opera House in New York. All District-area lawmakers voted for the bill except Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who did not vote.

Lawmakers have not had a raise in their salaries – which now stand at $133,600 for a rank-and-file member – since 1993 and have voted annually to cancel the automatic inflation adjustment that was established in a 1989 law. Lawmakers would be in line to get the same 2.3 percent across-the-board pay raise President Clinton has recommended for all federal workers. That would bring a rank-and-file House member's salary to $136,673. It would also raise the pay of federal judges, whose salaries are linked to lawmakers' pay.

The speed with which lawmakers passed the measure was in stark contrast to their deliberations on the seven days they took over three weeks to complete the $279 billion measure to fund the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education departments, approved, 346 to 80, yesterday.

Work on the bill was delayed by an effort by conservative Republicans to highlight what they thought was excessive spending that their leaders agreed to in the budget deal with Clinton, a protest by House Democrats over the lack of progress on legislation to reform campaign financing and Democratic complaints over the presence of former representative Robert K. Dornan (R-Calif.) on the House floor.

The conservatives' effort yielded no real victories and underscored the ideological, geographic and generational divide among the House Republicans. Roll calls on attempts to cut funds for such conservative targets as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Labor Relations Board won between 155 and 160 votes, showing that while conservatives hold a majority of the House Republicans they are still a minority of the House.

Their efforts got little support in the Northeast, where Republicans suffered their greatest losses last year, and those GOP "no" votes in other regions came from relatively senior lawmakers.

Democrats' objections to Dornan's presence on the House floor as the House Oversight Committee examines his charges of voter fraud in his loss to Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) last fall came to a head as Rep. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) offered a measure revoking the floor privileges Dornan enjoys as a former member.

Dornan and Menendez briefly confronted each other on the House floor before the Californian was led away by House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). Solomon later said he had advised Dornan not to go on the floor until the inquiry has been settled to avoid hurting his cause.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post

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