The House yesterday rejected a pay increase for members of Congress and other high-ranking government officials after being stampeded into preliminary approval of a 5.5 percent raise.
Opponents of the pay increase were rebuffed at first by a quick series of parliamentary maneuvers preventing them from getting a recorded vote to squelch any higher salaries. Instead, they found themselves forced to settle for a motion calling for the 5.5 percent increase.
But then the House turned around and, by a vote of 232 to 186, defeated the entire legislative appropriations bill to which the pay raise had been attached.
Rep. Adam Benjamin Jr. (D-Ind.), chairman of the legislative appropriations subcommittee, said language prohibiting any pay increase will have to be added to the bill before it can be brought back to the House floor.
The bill originally approved by the Appropriations Committee envisioned a 7 percent pay raise.
Benjamin declined to say that the leadership had erred in manipulating the House into voting for a more modest 5.5 percent increase. "I think tactically it was the best they could do to protect fellows who thought we deserved a pay increase but didn't want to vote for it," he said.
Benjamin said he was worried that continuation of the pay freezes Congress has imposed on itself and other high-paid officials in the past two years will bring increasing numbers of supposedly lower paid bureaucrats up to and above the supergrade level - GS 18s and above, making more than $47,500 a year.
But Rep. George M. O'Brien (R-Ill.), who had earlier been beaten in the preliminary attempt to knock out any pay raise, said he thought it more important to give the public "some kind of encouragement" in fighting inflationary wages and prices.
"They need to know we'll practice self-denial before we ask them to do it," he said.
O'Brien said Democratic maneuvers, which headed off his no-raise-at-all amendment by voice vote and then kept him from getting a record vote, "clearly backfired. Clearly members really wanted to express themselves on this."
What the Democratic leaders did was this:
First, they tried to prevent, in a rule setting terms of debate, a vote on anything except whether the pay increase would be 7 percent, as the bill allowed, or 5.5 percent. That maneuver failed by a 292-to-126 vote.
Then Republican leaders added another option: no pay increase at all. However, when O'Brien offered an amendment to that effect, Democratic leaders and a number of Republicans who wanted the pay increase had another trick up their sleeves.
When a quorum call was made to give O'Brien time to get 25 members to the floor, the required number to demand a record vote, the Democrats were ready for him. Though there were only 30 members on the House floor, the Democratic cloakroom doors flew open, dozens of members poured out and Rep. John M. Murphy (K-N.Y.), who was in the chair, quickly declared a quorum present.
For O'Brien it was an unfriendly quorum. He could not muster enough members to demand a record vote, and the O'Brien amendment was then shouted down by voice vote.
Now faced only with the choice of adopting either the 7 percent or the 5.5 percent raise the House voted overwhelmingly for the 5.5 percent raise by a 396-to-15 vote.
Rep. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) charged that Murphy had dropped a fast gavel, before a quorum was actually on the floor. But O'Brien laughed and said, "I think I was professionally handled. I was in the big leagues. I think the troops were ready for us."