Hidden Costs Of a Pay Raise

In Washington, odd consequences often flow from the simplest efforts. Take for example Congress's recent moves to increase its own pay and that of federal judges. No doubt worthy, but they could lead to some unusual problems in the next administration.

Why? Because of the good ol' Emoluments Clause. (No, not wrinkle-removers -- emoluments refer to compensation or wages.)

Seems the Constitution, in Article I, Section 6, says that no member of Congress, during the term for which he or she was elected, can accept an appointment to a job if "the emoluments" for that post were increased by Congress during his or her term.

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 wanted to make sure that members of Congress would not follow the tradition of the British Parliament and create high-paying jobs for themselves.

But the clause in the past has blocked some senators from consideration for appointment to the Supreme Court and has led to Cabinets where some members earned more than others.

For example, in 1987 President Ronald Reagan was thinking about putting Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) on the Supreme Court. But it turned out that the justices had gotten a pay raise approved by Congress while Hatch was a senator. Reagan's advisers determined that Hatch would have been eligible only after his six-year term ended in 1989. The White House opted instead to nominate appeals court Judge Robert H. Bork, who had other problems.

Under this reading of the clause, two-thirds of the Senate -- all those not involved in the 2000 elections -- would be barred for at least two years from serving on the high court, where there could well be an opening or two very soon. Justice John Paul Stevens is going to be 80 next April, and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist will be 76 by Election Day.

It's not just the high court that is affected by the pay raise. In the next Cabinet, senators whose terms have not expired would have to take temporary pay cuts to serve.

Loop fans know this as the venerable "Saxbe fix," for Sen. William B. Saxbe (R-Ohio), whom President Richard M. Nixon wanted to name as attorney general. Saxbe was in the Senate when Cabinet salaries were raised from $35,000 to $60,000, so a special bill was passed by Congress to rescind the raise for attorney general.

The Saxbe fix also was used when Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine) was named President Jimmy Carter's secretary of state (and more recently when Clinton named former senator Lloyd Bentsen as treasury secretary). At a time when the rest of the Cabinet earned $129,500, Muskie, for example, was paid $99,500 for two years until his Senate term would have expired.

While the maneuver works for the Cabinet and other executive posts, some experts say it's not so readily applicable to the judiciary, since Article III of the Constitution forbids reducing judicial pay.

Water World

Folks at the Office of Water at the Environmental Protection Agency traditionally have a four-day staff meeting around this time of year that they've called "Water Camp." Last year the getaway was in Williamsburg. This year the meeting, attended by about 200 people, was in Philadelphia.

But new office director Charles Fox is said to have thought some cynical, lowbrow reporter might find out about the name and make fun of the bureaucrats for frolicking while making policy.

So no more Water Camp. Now it's called the Annual Planning Meeting.

Keeping Up With . . .

When last we checked, Mark Middleton, a former assistant to former White house chief of staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, was being criticized for entertaining his potential business clients from Asia in White House dining facilities long after he left the White House.

And House investigators wanted to talk to the native Arkansan and business partner of Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie about Asian campaign contributions -- but Middleton, who left the White House in early 1995, took the Fifth.

Just a few weeks ago, Middleton, looking very blond and boyish, showed up in -- where else? -- Beijing, where he was seen shepherding around officials of a Little Rock investment company called Talisman Capital, including managing director Geoffrey Tirman.

We're told they are involved in a deal to invest several million dollars, along with the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, in an Internet start-up company run by the son of a former Chinese ambassador to Poland. The company's Web site, Homeway.com.cn, is one of the most popular economic sites in the Middle Kingdom, giving people tips on which stocks to invest in in China.

Middleton still calls himself a former assistant White House chief of staff, according to people who worked on the deal. It's a pretty Web site. Unclear what it says, since it's in Chinese.

Tips and comments for Al Kamen's column are welcomed at: In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail at Loop@washpost.com. Please include home and work phone numbers.