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Negotiators Agree to Allow Cost-of-Living Raise for Congress

By John E. Yang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 30, 1997; Page A06

House and Senate negotiators cleared the way for the first cost-of-living raise in lawmakers' salaries in five years last night as Senate bargainers quickly and quietly backed away from opposing the increase.

The politically sensitive issue will go to the full House and Senate, perhaps as soon as today, for lawmakers to ratify the bargainers' agreement to accept the 2.3 percent increase that a 1989 law allows them.

Lawmakers could still reject the pay boost in future legislation, but even opponents acknowledge that support for the increase is so widespread that it will be nearly impossible to stop.

"I'm in favor of this. I'm glad it's out of here. I hope it's sustained on the floor," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) told reporters after bringing the gavel down to end the three-minute meeting of House-Senate negotiators on the measure funding the Treasury Department and general government operations for the fiscal year beginning Wednesday.

In that time, Senate negotiators defeated a move by Stevens to insist on a Senate provision, passed in July, that would have exempted lawmakers from the inflation adjustment.

With no debate, the motion failed on a 3 to 3 tie, even though Stevens and Sen. Herb Kohl (Wis.), top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee on the Treasury, were the only ones present.

Stevens voted against his own motion – thus backing the pay hike – and was joined by Sens. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), both of them voting by proxy.

Kohl and Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) and Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) voted for it, thus opposing the adjustment. Campbell and Shelby also voted by proxy. Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.), an opponent of the increase who faces reelection next year, was not present because of commitments at home and had not been asked for his proxy, said spokesman Peter Hans.

Campbell, Mikulski and Shelby are also up for reelection next year.

Lawmakers have not had an increase in their pay since Jan. 1, 1993, while the cost of living, as measured by the Commerce Department's consumer price index, has gone up an average of 2.6 percent annually.

"This would be the fifth year we passed up a cost-of-living adjustment," Stevens told reporters after the meeting. "The retired people have gotten them, the military has gotten them. There's no reason not to get them."

If the adjustment takes effect, rank-and-file lawmakers' pay would rise about $3,000 to $136,673 from $133,600. Leaders of both parties have higher salaries, and the pay for House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) would go to $175,445 from $171,500.

Federal judges and top officials in the executive branch, whose salaries are linked to congressional pay, would also get a cost-of-living increase.

The increase for lawmakers is 0.5 percentage points less than the 2.8 percent adjustment President Clinton has approved for all other federal employees.

Top congressional leaders, including Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), have publicly supported the inflation adjustment despite complaints from younger House GOP conservatives that they were denied a direct vote on the matter. Last week, the House voted 229 to 199 to block an attempt by Rep. Linda A. Smith (R-Wash.) to stop the increase.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post

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