Hill Votes Pay, Ethics Package
By Don Phillips
Congress, acting with astounding speed in a bipartisan lock step, last night passed and sent to President Bush a major pay raise for House members, federal judges and top executive branch officials. The measure included a smaller salary increase for senators, who balked at the size of the House pay package and its accompanying total ban on keeping speech honoraria for personal use.
The Senate passed the bill, which also contains numerous changes in ethics rules, on a vote of 56 to 43.
The House, which passed its version of the bill 274 to 152 Thursday, gave its final approval on a voice vote, sending the package to Bush, who has promised to sign it.
The Senate's refusal to accept for itself the larger pay raise approved by the House means that for only the third time in history members of the two houses of Congress will be paid at different rates. The earlier instances were in 1795 when the House was paid $6 a day and the Senate $7 a day, and for a few months in 1982 when a salary raise became effective at different times for the two bodies.
Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) announced after several hours of debate last night that the leadership was short the necessary votes to pass a raise of up to 40 percent by late 1991 that the House had approved earlier. Instead, he offered a fallback position that the Senate accepted, providing a 10 percent cost-of-living raise Jan. 1. The cost-of-living raise would cover three years of inflation and raise Senate salaries from $89,500 to $98,400.
"I regret this decision," Mitchell said. "I believe it to be an unwise decision for the Senate."
The remainder of top federal officials, including House members, would get a 7.9 percent raise Jan. 1, making up for two years of inflation, plus a 25 percent increase on Jan. 1, 1991. The legislation also sets up automatic yearly cost-of-living increases for Congress, judges and the bureaucracy.
Under the bill, while speech honoraria for personal gain would be banned immediately for the House and the rest of government, Senate honoraria would be phased out on nearly a dollar-for-dollar basis as they received cost-of-living increases. Senate honoraria is now limited to 40 percent of salary, or $35,800, meaning that when senators receive their $8,900 cost-of-living raise, they can keep $26,568 in honoraria. The remainder must go to charity.
Because the House is taking a smaller two-year cost-of-living raise, it will earn less than the Senate for a year $96,600 for the House and $98,200 for the Senate in 1990. But when the House's 25 percent raise arrives in 1991, its members salaries will go to $120,800.
However, the House will labor under a 15 percent limit on outside earned income, while the Senate will have no such limit. Senators, therefore, will have a far greater capacity for total earnings.
Final passage came following several emotional speeches accusing the Senate of cowardice and predictions that there will be a vote soon to ban all honoraria.
Early last night, more than a dozen House leaders flowed onto the Senate floor where they joined Senate leaders in an extraordinary direct lobbying drive for passage of the pay and ethics package.
Until the Senate balked at the House version of the pay raise and honoraria ban, the bill had moved with amazing speed through the legislative process, pushed by a bipartisan compact among all top national party leaders not to use the issue in the next election.
The compact included a promise that House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.), House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) and other party leaders would personally defend members of the other party if their vote in favor of the bill is attacked during the 1990 campaign.
Mitchell and Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) made a similar promise to their colleagues yesterday before bringing the bill to the floor.
Foley and House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) reportedly promised House Republicans in a meeting Thursday that they would make personal appearances in the district of Republican members who were attacked for voting "yes" on the package to defend the GOP lawmakers.
"In the emotion of the moment, that was a big point," said a Democratic leadership aide, suggesting that appearances by the leadership may be limited to "egregious cases" but that the leaders will follow through on the extraordinary pledge.
Foley was called almost immediately on his promise when Democrat David Worley, who lost to Rep. Newt Gingrich, (R-Ga.), in the last election, issued a letter attacking Gingrich's vote for the raise. Republicans briefly considered, but rejected, asking Foley to go to Georgia to defend Gingrich, against whom Democrats have vowed revenge because of his role in the resignation of former House speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.).
But to indicate the Democrats' good faith, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) strongly rebuked Worley, suggesting that he may not receive financial support in the next election. DCCC Chairman Rep. Beryl Anthony (D-Ark.) personally informed Gingrich on the House floor of his displeasure with Worley, sources said.
Worley appeared stunned. "If the party is not going to make abortion a litmus test, then how can we make a pay raise a litmus test?" he asked. "That sounds strange to me."
The ethics portion of the package involving limits on outside income, travel, gifts and other such matters is similar to the House bill although the Senate also added a major section on post-employment lobbying. This lobbying, or "revolving door" section, is similar to a bill President Ronald Reagan vetoed.
The revolving door provisions would bar members of Congress and top congressional staff for the first time from lobbying anywhere in the legislative branch for one year after leaving office.
© Copyright 1989 The Washington Post