In one of the genuine ironies of American politics, President Carter's last official request will be for a substantial pay raise for the man who beat him out of his job, for the new Republican-dominated Senate and for key aides who will serve the incoming Reagan administration. Also benefiting from the proposed pay increase would be federal judges, and about 30,000 other elected, appointed and career government aides.
The process is a rerun -- with a new twist -- of what happened four years ago. That was when President Gerald Ford did the same favor for the incoming Carter team.
Within the next 10 days, Carter will get a hand-delivered report from a special blue-ribbon panel. It will recommend immediate pay raises -- in the neighborhood of 16 to 20 percent -- for Congress, judges and political appointees. Raises also would go to thousands of career and political bureaucrats who will be picked by President-elect Reagan. Most of those pay rates are now "frozen" at the $50,112.50 level.
The first step is for Carter to get the report of the Commission on Executive, Legislative and Judicial Salaries. It is known locally as the "Quad Com" because by law it is set up every four years to go through the politically painful chore of proposing high-level federal salary hikes.
Carter will study the report and, perhaps with downward modifications, incorporate it in the final budget he will send to the new Congress. The Quad Com was created as a vehicle to give top U.S. officials and members of Congress regular salary adjustments without starting a second American revolution. In the past, the recommendations went into effect unless the Senate or House took direct action and vetoed them. The idea was that members could simply let the pay increases happen, without appearing to favor them or, worse yet, go on record as voting for them. But the law was changed. tSo next year, for the first time, Congress must take a "record" vote whether to accept or reject the pay raises.
Members of Congress are supposed to get the same annual pay raise as rank-and-file civil servants. This year white-collar federal workers got a 9.1 percent raise. But Congress, fearing the wrath of the voters, dealt itself out of the October 1980 pay increase, holding their pay at the $60,662.50 level.
Politicians must be elected to their jobs. They don't like the idea of unelected bureaucrats earning the same, or more, than they get. So they deny pay raises to top federal workers while allowing subordinates to get them. As a result, about 30,000 federal workers in various grade levels all make the same money. The same holds true for most members of the Senior Executive Service who -- despite promises of big bucks for entering the less-secure world of the SES -- make the same $50,112.50 salary whether they can walk on water, or merely carry it.
Congress will have 30 days to accept or reject the pay recommendations (in the president's budget) of the Quad Com. If they bite the bullet and give themselves, judges and key career and political appointees the increases, the pay raises will go into effect in early 1981. If they kill the raises, however, odds are good it will be years before they get up the nerve to try again.
Despite the strong economy-in-government pitch of the Reagan campaign, many of his key advisers hope the pay raises sail through. Although the president-elect has said he wants successful captains-of-industry types to take the top jobs, there are thousands of important but lower-level positions where higher pay can make the difference for persons offered the jobs.
Four years ago, the Carter people applauded the proposals of President Ford for higher pay. They, too, ran on a platform pledging to wipe out waste in government. But once they won all the marbles, they realized that good executives cost money and that the best way to get a raise is to have the guy who lost the race propose it.