A pay raise for about 40,000 government executives was included yesterday in the Republican draft of the big catch-all spending bill for the bureaucracy that Congress is expected to approve before adjourning for the year.
Government executives' hopes for a pay increase have been raised and dashed repeatedly since their salaries were frozen at a maximum of $50,112 several years ago, but congressional sources said a pay raise for them now appears likely.
"There is no specific threat, there is just a lot of residual nervousness about the pay issue in light of its recent history," said a House Republican aide close to negotiations over the funding bill. "If it loses votes, it the pay raise could still be cut out," he added.
The proposal would raise salaries varying amounts: small percentages at lower levels to nearly 20 percent for the highest level executives, whose new pay would be set at $59,500. The raises would take effect Jan. 1.
A similar proposal was included in an earlier version of the so-called "continuing resolution" for funding the government through the rest of the 1982 fiscal year. But the House rejected it after it was coupled with a 4.8 percent pay raise for House members, who get skittish about voting to increase their own salaries. The new proposal does not include a congressional pay increase.
The executives' pay raise got another chance because President Reagan vetoed the earlier continuing resolution, shutting down the government for a day to prod Congress into producing a less costly alternative. Republicans, embarrassed by the earlier confrontation with their president, came up last week with a compromise that meets Reagan's "bottom-line" demand for at least $4 billion of the $8.4 billion in domestic appropriations cuts he proposed in September.
House Democrats, already bloodied in previous budget battles with Reagan, conceded yesterday that he will probably win this one too.
"To us those cuts are not acceptable," said House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.). But, asked if he had the votes to defeat the Republican proposal, he said, "I really don't know."
Deputy Majority Whip William V. (Bill) Alexander Jr. (D-Ark.) was more explicit. "They've got the votes," he said, adding, "We're going to fight it out, fight every round until the end, but we can add as well as they can."
Asked if the Democrats were expecting to "get rolled" on the issue, Alexander said, "Well, we've been rolled all year, but there's a difference between being rolled and taking a dive."
The Democratic majority on the House Appropriations Committee is drafting its own version of the continuing resolution, which Alexander and others indicated would include some further cuts while not going as far as the Republican proposal to lop $4 billion off the more than $400 billion necessary to fund the government through the end of the fiscal on Sept. 30, 1982.
Sources said the Democrats were also considering inclusion of the government executives' pay raises in their draft, although no decision had been made by late yesterday.
The House is scheduled to vote on the resolution Thursday, well in advance of next Tuesday, when current emergency funding for the government expires. Republican strategy calls for the Senate to rubber stamp the House measure if it is acceptable, thereby avoiding a House-Senate conference.
It was in such a conference last month that Congress came up with a compromise of about $2 billion in cuts that the administration found to be unacceptable.
The House Republicans' proposal was drafted in detailed negotiations with Senate Republican leaders, who indicated yesterday that they may be able to finish action on the resolution by Friday or Saturday. If they do, Congress may be able to adjourn for the year over the weekend or early next week.
The Republicans' resolution would achieve $4 billion in cuts by imposing a 4 percent reduction on all domestic programs for which appropriations bills have not been passed, with such exceptions as benefit entitlements, veterans' health care, revenue sharing with local governments and food stamps.
Some social welfare programs, specifically including fuel assistance for the poor, were partially shielded from the new round of cuts to guarantee the support of Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.), ranking Republican on House Appropriations, and other GOP moderates.
It was the defection of these moderates that caused the narrow defeat of a similar proposal in the House last month.