After the House fought for a week to pass a 5.5 percent pay raise for Congress and other top federal officials, the Senate Appropriations Committee turned around and voted 22 to 0 yesterday to cut Congress out of it.
There were screams of pain from the House, where, after two defeats, all kinds of arm-twisting and promises had been made to pass the pay raise, which had become bound to a vital stophap spending resolution.
"I'm sick," said Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), a leader in the pay raise fight. "Now we ought to take ourselves out from under that limitation." If the 5.5 percent figure were simply dropped from the measure, Congress would get a 12.9 percent increase because last year's cost-of-living raise was deferred.
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), who also fought for the raise, said, "A lot of guys are going to be unhappy, especially since they took care of the Senate on that building they wanted so badly." The House recently went along with an appropriation raising the amount available to complete the Hart Senate office building to $137 million, President Carter signed the water projects money bill, to which it was attached, Tuesday.
"It looks like that's the end of the pay raise," Murtha added.
The motion to deny the pay raise to Congress but give it to judges and 22,000 other government employes earning $47,500 and above was made by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and approved without any discussion. Members of Congress earn $57,500 a year.
Stevens said the action would avoid a Senate floor fight and let House Senate conferees decide the issue. Senate observers had expected it to defeat the pay raise on the floor. One reason may be that the Senate, unlike the House, had voted to exempt itself from a limit on outside income, and senators, being better known then House members, make considerable amounts of money on the speaking circuit.
The Senate Appropriations Committee took several other actions that would, if approved by the full Senate, make it difficult to get final agreement this week on the spending resolution. It should be adopted before the new fiscal year starts Monday, to fund agencies whose appropriations bills have not passed. That includes most of the government.
By a vote of 14 to 13, the committee set up another confrontation between the two bodies on the difficult issue of abortion. The House had approved language forbidding use of federal funds for abortion unless the mother's life would be endangered. The Senate committee replaced this with language from the present Health, Education and Welfare Department budget law, which permits abortions under specified additional conditions. These are the same two conflicting provisions that have held up next year's HEW appropriation bill for months.
The Senate committee also undid a compromise fashioned by the House Appropriations Committee to save the Federal Trade Commission from a wrecking crew. To try to force House action on an FTC authorization bill delayed for three years and to protect the FTC from being hobbled by restrictive appropriation riders, the House had approved a separate FTC spending resolution keeping it alive until mid-November and permitting it to continue ongoing activities but to start no new investigations and issue no final rules or regulations.
he Senate committee voted to bundle the FTC into the resolution covering the entire government and to delete the restrictive language.
The Senate resolution also shrank the duration of the resolution from three months to one, which means that if the appropriation bills aren't all passed by the end of October, all these issues may have to be fought over again.
The resolution also orders a $750 million reduction below the estimated $8 billion in non-defense government travel during the next year.
The Senate is expected to act on the resolution today. House leaders have told members that they can't go on a promised Columbus Day recess next week unless the continuing resolution is approved.