If there is anything the typical member of Congress hates it is a pre-election discussion of congressional pay raises.
Although many members consider themselves little better than serfs at $60,662.50 per annum, most would just as soon keep salaries, and pay raises, out of the limelight in the months before the voters go to the polls. Probably not a bad idea.
Without this background, understand that it is with a heavy heart that the House soon begins discussion of, not one, not two, but 32 different congressional pay raise plans.
A congressional pay raise this year is about as likely as the destruction of Columbus, Ohio by a tidal wave. Nevertheless, the discussion over congressional pay -- due before the House compensation subcommittee -- will open new wounds, create some new rhetorical highs (and lows) as members run away from the prospect of more money.
Before the subcommittee, headed by Rep. Gladys N. Spellman (D-Md.) are a dazzling array of unwanted congressional pay bills that must be dealt with this year, either by law or as part of the oversight hearing process. They include:
Ten different bills to defer any congressional pay raise until 1981.
Ten bills eliminating all raises for members of Congress.
At least four bills requiring Congress to balance the budget before it can get another pay raise. (Kiss them goodbye).
Three bills that would force members of Congress to vote on-the-record for or against raises. (Most pay raises are approved by voice votes, so nobody has to take the heat).
At least one bill that would force each member of Congress to take a 5 percent pay cut. (Kiss that one goodbye).
Various bills to make it tougher to raise congressional salaries. The annual congressional pay agony is of more than passing interest to federal workers, since members of Congress get testy about okaying raises for bureaucrats when they can't get a raise themselves.
Without the next few weeks, President Carter will send Congress his recommendations for an October white-collar pay raise. He has budgeted a 6.2 percent October increase, although preliminary data indicate that nearly double that amount is due to make up for "capped" raises last year, and an average 9.1 percent wage gain in industry between March of 1979 and March 1980. During the same period the cost of living was up more than 14 percent.
If Carter proposes the bigger catch-up-with-industry raises, they go into effect automatically. But if he sticks with his 6.2 percent figure, Congress would have to approve it. Members aren't likely to vote for bigger increases for civil servants when they can't get raises themselves.