As an anti-inflation measure, the House Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to freeze the salaries of top government officials and deny them an automatic cost-of-living increase scheduled for October.
The president has already announced that he will recommend the October increase for other federal employes be held to 5.5 percent in an effort to have government employes take the lead in his fight against inflation. He also announced there would be no increase for the White House staff.
Under the amendment, passed 22 to 8, everyone in the government making $47,500 or more would be denied the raise. That includes federal judges, members of Congress, top congressional staff and members of the executive branch above GS16, including level 1 to 5 officials. Committee staffers estimated that slightly more than 11,000 workers would be affected.
Rep. John P. Murtha Jr. (D-Pa.), who offered the amendment to a $922 million legislative appropriations bill, admitted he did so to "keep the issue off the floor," where he said members would likely "damagogue about it."
A similar amendment was defeated 5 to 2 in a legislative appropriations subcommittee about a month ago when Rep. William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.) offered it. However, Armstrong threatened then to bring it up in the full committee. By yesterday, however, the Democrats - who did not wish to see Republicans take credit for such a move - were ready to counter with an amendment of their own.
Armstrong said he objected to House members getting an automatic pay increase without a vote on it, which he said "allows us to profit from inflation." The executive branch should be included, he said, because officials at that level are "policymakers. They have it in their power to control inflationary trends and any measure which exempts them from the effects of inflation is no good."
The amendment could be subject to a floor vote when the legislative apprpriation bill comes to the floor, but neither the House nor the Senate is expected to reverse the decision.
A similar freeze was voted last year in the wake of a controversial pay increase that raised the salaries of members of Congress from $44,600 to $57,500.
Defeated by the Appropriations Committee were a series of "reform" amendments that Armstrong said he will offer again when the bill comes to the floor.
He offered amendments calling for a Government Accounting Office audit of house members' books, an end to such perquisites as free calenders, and reduction in House members' allowances for such things as district offices, computers, newsletters and other expenses.
Armstrong said the audit would clear up suspicions about scandals ranging from the one involving former Rep. Wayne Hays (D-Ohio) to that of Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. (D-Mich.), who was rececently charged with having staff members kick back part of their salaries.