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Pay, Ethics Package Unveiled

By Don Phillips
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 16, 1989; Page A01

House leaders and President Bush agreed yesterday on legislation to raise the pay of Congress, federal judges and senior executives by almost 40 percent by 1991 and to make major changes in ethics rules, including adding a requirement that honoraria go to charity.

House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) said the bill will be brought to the floor today, and he predicted that it will pass comfortably with bipartisan support. Foley emphasized the ethics changes, calling them "the most extensive revision of ethical standards in the last 20 years."

Foley appeared with House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) at a news conference where two dozen party leaders and the task force that drafted the package praised it for almost 90 minutes in speeches.

Bush sent a letter to Michel supporting the package as a step forward in government ethics and saying he hopes to sign it before Congress adjourns for the year.

Michel and White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu worked out the final details yesterday morning, resolving a problem created by last-minute Bush demands for changes that would make congressional staff aides subject to some of the same requirements as high-level executive branch employees. In the compromise, new conflict-of-interest rules for House staff members were included in congressional rules rather than in law. {Chart of proposed changes, Page A16.}

Under the House plan, members of Congress, federal judges and senior officials of the executive branch who have not had cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for two years would receive cost-of-living raises of 4.1 percent for 1989, 3.6 percent for 1990 and an as-yet-to-be-determined amount in 1991. A 25 percent pay raise would go into effect in 1991.

Because of compounding, the raise would amount to almost 40 percent above current levels, depending on the 1991 COLA. Congressional salaries would rise from $89,500 to about $125,000 a year. Vice President Quayle's $115,000 salary also would rise by about 40 percent, but Bush's $200,000 salary would remain the same because it is set under a different law.

The 25 percent raise would cover 449 House members and top employees, 1,115 judges of the Supreme Court, appeals courts and district courts, and 834 members of the executive branch including Cabinet members and executive levels I through V. Members of the Senior Executive Service, who are tied to the executive-level salaries, would get an increase to be determined later by the president.

The House bill also contains numerous ethics changes, including new financial disclosure rules, and tighter rules on travel, gifts and conflicts of interest. House members would be prohibited from practicing law for pay or taking professional and director fees.

Senate leaders have said they plan to take up a similar package, possibly as early as Friday. Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), who have been working on the ethics portion of the package, announced their plan yesterday. In addition to restrictions on travel, gifts and similar matters, the plan also incorporates a version of post-employment lobbying restrictions that was vetoed last year by President Ronald Reagan.

Less certain, however, is what the Senate will do about pay. Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) and Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) have raised the possibility that the Senate will accept only cost-of-living raises and keep a portion of honoraria, which is now limited to 40 percent of their salaries. However, a growing number of senators appears inclined to accept the House plan, especially because the raises would reach almost 40 percent when compounded.

The House-White House agreement was the result of a process that began in April when Reps. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) and Lynn Martin (R-Ill.) convened a bipartisan task force to hold hearings and draft a plan. A final push to enact the plan began last week with the rare formation of a Democratic-Republican whip organization to persuade reluctant members.

Hundreds of meetings by various groups in Congress and with the White House produced an apparent consensus that was not present when a national furor defeated a 51 percent pay raise early in the year.

Honoraria: Members of the House and all federal employees could not accept honoraria payments beginning in 1991. Members of the House and House staff could give speeches and assign fees to charity to a maximum of $2,000 per donation, provided the member or family does not benefit in any way, including any tax advantages. There is currently no limit on how much can be given to one charity. As now, there would be no limit on the total amount of honoraria that could go to all charities.

Other Outside Income: Members of the House and House employees could not be affiliated with or employed by a professional services firm or practice a profession for compensation. They could serve on boards of directors without compensation or teach for pay with approval by the supervising ethics office. Members, employees and all non-career federal employees at level GS-16 or higher could not earn outside income greater than 15 percent of the executive level II salary beginning in 1991.

Gifts: Gifts of more than $200 from any one source in any year would be prohibited except from relatives. Not covered would be gifts of personal hospitality, gifts of $75 or less and meals which are not in connection with overnight lodging.

Travel: Lobbyists, organizations or other private sources could still pay for trips by members and their spouses; such trips would be limited to four days and three nights for domestic travel and seven days and six nights for foreign travel. The ethics committee could give waivers.

Conflict of Interest: Top House employees would be prohibited from participating personally or substantially in contacts with any other agency of government or the judiciary with respect to non-legislative matters in which they have a significant financial interest. This would be written into House rules, not the law.

Financial Disclosure: More detailed reporting of travel expenses would be required. Any travel reimbursement or gifts of more than $200 would have to be reported. New levels of financial disclosure categories would be added: "below $15,000" and "more than $1 million." Blind trusts would continue to be allowed, but requirements would be tightened to ensure the independence of the trustee, and the total category value of trust assets would have to be disclosed.

Grandfather Clause: The House rule allowing members elected before 1980 to convert accumulated campaign contributions to personal use when they retire would be repealed beginning in 1993.

© Copyright 1989 The Washington Post

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