Although members of Congress complain that their salaries and perks don't give them enough to get by on, nothing terrifies them more than having to vote on a pay raise for themselves. Their salary of $60,662.50 doesn't sound low to most people back home.
In the old days before much attention was paid to congressional ethics, members were able legally to pad their salaries in various ways, pocketing unspent office allowances or practicing law on the side or making speeches to groups on the outside. But four years ago, after exposure of some spectacular escapades by congressmen and the realization that the job had become full time, the House pushed through some ethics legislation that included in exchange for a pay raise a limit on earned outside income of 15 percent of salary.
Since this applies only to earned income (not dividends or inherited wealth) a number of members complained that they were being discriminated against in favor of the rich, and some quit Congress because of this. The Senate has postponed the effective date of its 15 percent limit on earned outside income, though senators are forbidden by law to accept more than $25,000 a year for speeches. Most outside income comes from this source.
In this year of unprecedented budget-cutting it would be more difficult than ever for members to vote themselves a pay raise. In fact, they will shortly vote as part of the legislative appropriation bill to continue the pay freeze on federal employes earning over $50,112 a year, which holds down pay for the senior civil service as well as for members of Congress.
But there are other ways to get congressional income up. One would be to increase the $3,000 tax deduction for Washington living expenses that was recently rejected in the House Appropriations Committee. Then there is the limit on outside income.
Rules Committee chairman Richard Bolling (D-Mo.) announced at a committee meeting yesterday that he has been under "considerable pressure" by some members of both parties to report out a change in House rules to increase permitted outside income. (Common Cause, the public affairs lobby that has been a leader in urging though ethical standards, has recommended that the outside income limit be raised for two years to 30 percent with some tightening on the restrictions of income not subject to the limitation.) Bolling said he favors some increase in the outside income limit and plans hearings on it. He added that it should be done deliberately and out in the open so Congress could not be criticized for trying to slip it by.
The Senate passed a bill designed to take the federal government pretty much out of the noise control business. It would amend the 1972 act that gave the government authority to regulate noise of most products or carriers that move in interstate commerce.
Some federal courts have ruled that the law prevented state or local governments from acting to control noise. Because of this and because the administration asked Congress to return this regulatory authority to the states, the Senate bill would end the federal program except to give the Environmental Protection Agency discretionary authority to regulate noise by interstate trucks and railroads. The House Commerce Committee has approved a companion bill which also would retain jurisdiction over motorcycles.