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Members of Congress Again Will Go Without a Pay Raise

By Eric Pianin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 21, 1994; Page A25

For the second consecutive year, congressional leaders yesterday canceled a cost-of-living pay raise for members, thus avoiding a political showdown that might have jeopardized a scheduled 2.6 percent pay raise for federal workers.

Negotiators for the House and Senate Appropriations Committee agreed to language in the 1995 Treasury-Postal Services spending bill that blocks a $3,473 pay raise for members from taking effect. Most members of Congress are paid $133,600 a year, with a handful of congressional leaders paid more.

The controversy came to a head this week when Rep. Jim Lightfoot (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Treasury-Postal Services subcommittee, threatened to force a vote in the House on the pay raise unless the House and Senate conferees eliminated the COLA increase for members. Lightfoot claimed that Congress was trying to "sneak through" a congressional pay raise – a charge hotly disputed by Democratic appropriators.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), chairman of the Treasury-Postal Services subcommittee, said he insisted upon language barring the pay increase because "I did not want to put federal employees in the position where they get stung because of the unwillingness of Congress to follow the law {in the face of} political demagoguery."

Under a government ethics law designed to take the politics out of the congressional pay issue, House and Senate members automatically receive the same cost-of-living adjustments granted other federal employees unless Congress takes action to rescind its own pay raise.

President Clinton pledged last month that federal employees would receive a 2 percent pay increase and half of their scheduled "locality pay" next year. For Washington-Baltimore area civil servants, the package will amount to a 3.3 percent annual raise, according to preliminary calculations. Nationwide, the average increase will be 2.6 percent.

Although many Democratic and Republican members say privately they deserve the COLA increases, few are willing to vote for those raises, particularly in an election year.

The House passed a 1995 Treasury-Postal Service appropriations bill in June providing the pay increases for the federal work force but denying the COLA to congressional members. But the Senate disagreed and passed its own version of the spending bill allowing members to receive the pay increase.

Yesterday, Hoyer and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) told Senate conferees there was no way the bill could pass without a ban on increased congressional pay. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), Hoyer's counterpart in the Senate, defended the system of linking congressional salaries to cost-of-living adjustments for other federal employees, even though he has consistently voted against pay raises for members.

"I thought it was a reasonable approach," he said.

Lightfoot, a self-styled "citizen legislator," said yesterday that "in my district, nobody I know gets a pay raise as big as Congress's automatic pay raise."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post

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