The Senate is going to pay more for its collective piety, without even a sigh of prayerful regret from the most devout of its inflation fighters.
Which is to say that with nary a peep of opposition nor lifted eyebrow, the Senate has voted to raise the salary of its chaplain, the Rev. Dr. Edward L.R. Elson, from $24,948 to $34,398 a year.
The sum represents peanuts in the supplemental appropriations bill of almost $14 billion approved by the Senate, but it masks a riveting little vignette of congressional prerogative and perquisite.
The House and Senate have always had their respective chaplans, men of the cloth who opened each chamber's session with an appropriate payer and could also, when occasion demanded, counsel troubled sheep in the congressonal flock.
And over the years, congressional chaplains tended either to have pastorates elsewhere, which made them partimers on Capitol Hill, or to be retired, which meant they had pensions to help them along.
That meant that a congressional chaplan could be renumerated on a handsome, yet far from munificient basis.
But theHouse upset that fiscal tranquility in January, when it passed a resolution approving a salary of $50,000 for its new chaplain, the Rev. James D. Ford, who had been lured from the U.S. Military Academy.
Now, while it may be true that the House is no more wayward than the Senate, it at least has more members -- 435 to 100 -- and presumably places greater demands on the time of its chaplain.
But appearances count for a good deal on Capitol Hill, and it was deemed in the Senate that such a wide gap between the House and Senate chaplains' salaries did not look good.
The Senate's Rev. Dr. Elson found support in important quarters. Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd [D-W.VA] Minority Leader Howard H. Baker (r. Tenn), and other prominent senators wrote to the legislative appropriations subcommittee to suggest a salary increase.
No senator came out flatly and said, "Hey, look, our chaplain's worth as much as their chaplain," but the subcommittee got the message and came up with a formula for narrowing the wage gap.
When Dr. Elson became chaplain in 1969, he was still serving full-time as pastor of the National Presbyterian Church in Washington. Because he had other income, in starting salary was set at $10,000 per year.
Since retirement from National Presbyterian in 1973, he has been on duty around the Senate floor and in his Russell Building office on a fulltime basis.
That -- and the spur provided by the House action, duly norted in the Appropriations committee's report -- led the legislators to conclude that times have changed and another raise was in order.
Dr. Elson, the 49th chaplain of the Senate, said in an interview that his workload has increased a good deal over the past decade -- even though "the daily prayer is the only visible thing." "There is no end of my day," he said. "I come early and stay late. It's seven days a week -- dedications, conventions, hospital calls sick people. All the warp and woof of normal life."
A U.S. senator in trouble perchance? "A chaplain can't talk about the most interesting parts of his ministry," said Dr. Nelson. CAPTION: Picture, Among chaplain Elson's services: performing wedding ceremonies for senators such as Bob Dole of Kansas. AP