The House voted 303 to 109 yesterday to raise the pay of members of Congress by 15 percent and lift the pay cap for senior federal executives by a somewhat smaller amount.
It agreed to the raises a few hours before passing -- by a cliff-hanging vote of 204 to 200 -- a huge stopgap spending bill for the government that includes a $5.4 billion Democratic jobs program President Reagan has threatened to veto.
A veto of the so-called continuing resolution, which would keep the government running through March 15, could shut down most federal agencies at midnight Friday, when current spending authority expires.
Closeness of the continuing resolution vote stemmed from Republican opposition to the jobs program and apparent nervousness among some Democrats over the congressional pay raise, which was included in the spending measure.
As it worked through amendments to the spending measure, the House also voted 217 to 196 to drop funding for the Clinch River breeder reactor, which could kill the highly controversial nuclear project unless Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), its most powerful protector, can revive it in the Senate.
Then the House, in a victory for environmentalists, voted to deny funds in the omnibus spending bill for the controversial Garrison Diversion water project in North Dakota and for the O'Neill Unit irrigation project in Nebraska. The votes were 252 to 152 against Garrison and 245 to 144 against O'Neill.
Passage of the House Democratic jobs plan -- which includes money for repair of public facilities, job retraining and emergency food and shelter for the unemployed -- came as the Senate voted 53 to 44 against a different jobs plan advanced by Senate Democrats.
The Senate Democrats' $9.7 billion jobs plan, which would have been financed by raising income taxes on the wealthy, was intended as a substitute for the only major prece of legislation expected to emerge from the lame-duck session: a nickel-a-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax to finance highway, bridge and transit repairs.
The Senate vote was largely along party lines, with Republicans brushing aside Democratic claims that jobs spending is needed because, as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) put it, "Since Reagan got his job, 4 million people have lost theirs."
The Senate worked past midnight on the gas tax measure, wrestling with an assortment of amendments, including a bipartisan proposal to freeze soaring natural gas prices.
Before launching into lengthy debate on those prices, the Senate rejected, 54 to 40, a proposal from Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) to move up to April the 10 percent income tax cut scheduled for July and reduce it to 5 percent, reserving the rest of the cut until a balanced budget is achieved.
Before adjourning at 1:29 this morning, the Senate shelved two proposals aimed at curbing natural gas price increases. It approved a "sense of the Senate" resolution urging use of existing statutory authority to modify contract provisions that lend to higher prices and urged consideration of more fuel assistance for the poor.
On the congressional pay raise issue -- which also would mean increases of up to $8,700 a year for roughly 32,200 high-level federal civilian and military employes -- the nervous House nearly reversed itself. But the reversal motion lost on a tie.
But final enactment of the pay raise measure remained uncertain. A leadership source said late yesterday that the Senate is unlikely to concur in the increase, meaning the sensitive issue would have to be resolved in a House-Senate conference.
As the House was acting on the pay raise, the Senate tried to take care of one of its own big compensation problems by voting 54 to 38 to repeal a limit on fees from speeches and other outside income that would have taken effect on Jan. 1 thereby retaining the present rule, which is no limits on outside income.
But the House has proposed a 30 percent limit on outside income for all members of Congress, which could become a bargaining chip in negotiations over the pay raise in conference. Senators are more about fees from speech-making than House members because they are better known and generally earn more from it than their House counterparts.
The House action would raise the pay of members of Congress from $60,662.50 a year to $69,800. The ceiling for members of the Senior Executive Service would be raised from $58,500 to $67,200. For General Service grades, the ceiling would be raised from $57,500 to $63,800.
Because members of Congress have been afraid to raise their own pay and reluctant to let civil servants earn more than they do. Congress has frozen pay for itself and the top echelons of the pureaucracy for four of the last five years. The only exception was a 5.5 percent cost-of-living increase in 1979.
The way was paved for the pay vote by the House Appropriations Committee last week, when it agreed to eliminate the existing pay cap from the stopgap "continuing resolution." This could have raised pay for members of Congress up to 877,300 a year under some interpretation of exsting law.
Two amendments were permitted on the House floor: one sponsored by Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) to raise congressional pay and the executive pay cap by 15 percent and another sponsored by Rep. Bob Traxler (D-Mich.) to retain the existing pay ceiling.
It was the Fazio proposal that was approved, 603 to 109, after members appealed to their colleagues to overcome their customary skittishness about raising their own pay and approve the increase as an incentive to keep good people in Congress and the civil service.
"Good pay is essential to good government . . . and bad pay is leading to bad government," argued Rep. Clair W. Burgener (R-Calif.). The alternative to adequate pay for members of Congress, added Burgener, is a Congress filled with "a bunch of millionaires [or] ne'er-do-wells and once in a while you'll get 'em [both] in the same package."
"We cannot go on like this," complained Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-N.J.).
Although no one spoke out against Fazio's propusal, the House's historical reluctance to vote for a congressional pay increase showed up only moments later in the vote on Traxler's proposal to keep the cap in place.
As it appeared that Traxler would narrowly lose, with time running out on the roll call, members who apparently were reluctant to be seen as casting the deciding vote for a pay increase began switching their votes.
The totals seesawed back and forth until finally a tie was reached and the gavel fell, closing the coll call at 208 to 208. The tie meant the proposal tailed, which had the effect of leaving Fazio's 15 percent increase in the bill, although some nerrdus members later complained they had voted with Fazio only to prevent a larger increase.
Among Washington area members, Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) voted with Fazio, while Reps. Marjorie S. Holt (R-Md.) and Stanford E. Parris (R-Va.) voted against the increase.
Traxler had not questioned whether the pay taise was needed but argued that the timing was had in light of high unemployment.
House Rules Committee Chairman Richard Bolling (D-Mo.), who -- like many who argued for the pay increase -- is retiring from Congress this vear, countered that even the unemployed should want a Congress that is adequately paid.
"If we don't have the courage to deal with this, what makes anyone think we would have the courage to deal with the problems of the world?" asked Bolling. This vote, he added, is a "test of courage."
In debate on the jobs proposal, Democrats defended the proposed spending as a shot-in-the-arm for the economy and a help to as many as 450,000 unemployed workers, while Republicans ridiculed it as a grab-bag of goodies for members to take home to their constituents at Christmas.
And Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.), ranking minority member on the House Appropriations Committee, told the House that Reagan had informed congressional Republican leaders as recently as yesterday morning he would veto the continuing resolution if it contained the jobs money.
Conte quoted the president as telling the leaders, "I don't give a damn whether it's Friday night and the whole government is brought to a standstill, I will not sign a continuing resolution with a jobs bill in it."
What Reagan was referring to was that continuing stopgap spending authority for the government expires at midnight Friday, meaning the government could not reopen on Monday until new spending authority is approved.
Responding to Conte's transmittal of the president's warning, House Majority Leader James C. Wright Jr. (D-Tex.) accused Reagan of assuming the "role of Big Daddy" and trying to dictate legislative priorities to Congress. "Who does he think he is?" asked Wright, referring to the president.
"A promise is not a threat," responded Rep. James H. Quillen (R-Tenn.).
Inclusion of jobs money in the continuing resolution was not the only point of disagreement yesterday between Reagan and congressional leaders.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) indicated that Congress was unlikely to do much more than pass the continuing resolution and the gas tax increase, although the White House continued to insist on a longer agenda, including such items as authorization of Radio Marti for broadcast to Cuba and immigration law revisions.
Baker indicated that Congress would probably not approve a separate defense appropriations bill, originally one of the administration's main agenda items for the session. Instead, he said, defense would probably be wrapped into the continuing resolution.
Baker also said he did not think that Congress could finish by Friday, as originally scheduled.
The House Democratic jobs plan includes $1 billion for jobs lasting no more than six months and involving repair and improvement of public facilities, with the money targeted mainly to areas of high unemployment. Eligibility would be limited to those who have been unemployed for 15 of the last 26 weeks, with preference given those who have exhausted jobless compensation benefits.
Another $1 billion would go into community development block grants for other repair work in metropolitan areas, and many existing programs would be expanded in ways that would create additional jobs, ranging from public housing modernization to work on Amtrak bridges in the Northeastern corridor.
Also $50 million would be provided for emergency food and shelter, and interim funding would be provided for housing appropriations, including new subsidized housing starts that Reagan opposes, while Congress continues work on a new housing authorization bill.
In addition, the continuing resolution, as approved by the House, continues existing bans on federally funded abortions and a prohibition against using federal funds to block voluntary prayer in public schools.
The Senate Republican leadership opposes inclusion of any jobs spending in the Senate version of the continuing resolution, to be drafted today by the Senate Appropriations Committee. However, Committee Chairman Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) has indicated he may seek to include at least some jobs money.
Any difference between Senate and House versions of the spending measure would have to be ironed out in conference, presumably in time for final action Friday, although a quickie, interim extension of spending authority is considered possible if Congress gets bogged down.
O'Neill indicated yesterday that he would be prepared to move ahead with a stripped-down continuing resolution if Reagan vetoes the resolution forwarded by Congress. That would mean that action on jobs must wait until next year.