An angry Senate, after a day of playing a high-stakes game of chicken with the House over abortion and a congressional pay raise, last night killed a vital funding resolution, 55 to 9.
That action set the stage for results that neither body wanted. One is that Congress and 22,000 top federal employes and judges will become entitled to a 12.9 percent pay raise at midnight tomorrow instead of the 5.5 percent increase that was contained in the bill.
The other is that government agencies and departments will start running out of money for payrolls and programs starting Monday, the beginning of the new fiscal year, because the bill continued funding for the dozens of agencies and departments who appropriations have not passed Congress.
The game continued even after the Senate defeated the bill near midnight last night. While Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D.W. Va.) invited President Carter to call Congress back into session to act on the resolution, House leaders remained determinedly blase.
An aide to House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said last night the House would not be coming back before Oct. 9. "We've been assured no harm will be done doing it this way," the aide said.
But whether that is actually the case or another ploy in the game was not clear.
The House had infuriated the Senate by reneging on a deal senators thought they had worked out in a House-Senate conference.According to that deal, the Senate would allow Congress to have a 5.5 percent pay raise, if the House would take more liberal language on abortion funding.
House members said they would return to the House and get a vote on it. But when they got there, the House quickly voted to approve its own strict language on abortion, then fled on a 10-day Columbus Day recess.
Senators exploded in fury when they heard what the House had done.
"What we are confronting here is a carefully crafted plan to nail down a 5.5 increase. It's legislative blackmail," Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine) said.
"Those House people will be faced with a firestorm back home the likes of which they've never seen. They'll look like fools. . .devious fools," Muskie shouted.
Byrd tried to get the Senate to draft some amendments knocking out the raises and insisting on the Senate's more liberal abortion funding language, but the Senate would have none of it and voted to defeat the bill instead.
The result is that, because of the way federal pay law is structured, cumulative 12.9 percent raises scheduled for the last two years but blocked by Congress are to go into effect automatically Monday.
The Senate meets today at noon. If nothing is done by tomorrow night, Congress could come back later and roll back or knock out completely the raise for itself and the federal employes, but because the Constitution says a judge's salary may not be reduced during his or her term of office, the judges would get the 12.9 percent no matter what Congress did later.
And Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska) said court cases raise the possibility that Congress and federal employes also would get the 12.9 percent increase, at least for the time between Oct. 1 and whenever Congress takes further action.
Ten of the 13 appropriations bills Congress must pass each year have not yet cleared Congress. That includes most of the government, including the departments of Defense, Labor and Health, Education and Welfare. It amounts to about $250 billion worth of funding.
The government could operate for a while without the continuing resotion, but how long is not clear.
Military pay, for instance, would stop Oct. 10, disaster relief Thursday. Veteran's payments, worker compensation and other funds would soon run into trouble.
The entanglement over the pay raise began a week ago. The fight over abortion language has been going on for seven years.
In 1977, Congress, upon the advice of a federal commission, voted itself a big pay raise, $12,900, that put its members up to $57,500 a year.
Then, in October of that year, embarrassed by the increase, members rejected an automatic cost-of-living increase that was due them, the judges and top federal workers. They did the same in 1978.
When the automatic cost-of-living increase first came up this year, the House, in May, killed a legislative appropriations bill rather than permit the raise.
However, last week, after two defeats, the leadership got the House to go along with a 5.5 percent increase for itself, the judges and the top federal workers, as part of the continuing resolution.
The Senate hoped to use that action as a bargaining chip in a House-Senate conference to get its way on abortion. The House over the years has consistently demanded strict anti-abortion language, refusing to allow the federal government to pay for abortions unless the life of the woman were endangered.
The Senate insists on more liberal language, allowing abortions for rape, incest, ectopic pregnancies, and certain other conditions.