House hearings kick off Feb. 17 on an explosive proposal to nearly double the pay of members of congress, federal judges and top political appointees of the new Reagan administration. Congress faces a mid-March deadline for action on recommendations that would raise -- from 40 percent to 55 percent -- salaries of elected and appointed officials. Those recommendations, considered science fiction in the current economic climate, were made by a blue-ribbon panel of private industry heavyweights named by President Carter.
With the blessings of the Reagan team, Carter watered down the proposals in his budget. His recommendations call for raises of just over 16 percent for members of Congress, who now get $60,000 a year. It would also lift the pay ceiling for other top federal officials.
Several thousand federal supergraders and members of the Senior Executive Service, career and political, would get raises of up to $7,500 a year under the Carter proposal. Both the Senate and the House must act on it, in a record vote, by March 16.
To get the ball rolling, chairman William Ford (D-Mich.) has named a special task force of his House Post Office-Civil Service Committee to study the recommendations of the Quadrennial Commission. Members, including Ford, are Reps. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), William Clay (D-Mo.), Edward Derwinski (R-Ill.) and Gene Taylor (R-Mo.).
All of them are key men in Congress and able, if they choose, to persuade various blocs in the House. Ford and Clay have big labor backing and Clay can influence members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Derwinski and Udall have considerable clout in their respective parties and are largely responsible for getting Carter's civil service reforms enacted into law. Taylor has powerful lines into the GOP conservative establishment.
Top Reagan aides -- with some very powerful exceptions -- would like to see a substantial raise for top government officials so they can recruit the kind of people they want from industry to take key cabinet jobs. David Stockman, Reagan's director of Office of Management and Budget, is one of the powerful, vocal minority who feels that it is bad politics and psychology to have any kind of top federal pay raise this year.
Some kind of pay raise -- perhaps a watered-down version of Carter's watered-down version -- is likely to come out of the Ford committee and its Senate counterpart, Governmental Affairs, headed by Delaware Republican William Roth. The big fight will be on the Senate an House floors, where the issue must be handled by a record vote, unlike previous years. A strong statement from the president favoring some kind of executive adjustment is considered a must to get it through Congress.