NOT ALL of the results of the session were so good. Consider congressional pay. The House did vote straightforwardly to increase its own pay, which was fine. Except that it voted too much: a 15 percent raise, which far exceeds annual inflation. This is a highly visible figure that may lead many workers to demand increases that, in sum, could prove dangerously inflationary. House members argue that they have had only one small raise in five years. But that's their own fault: they voted against them. That's not true of the nearly 33,000 federal workers whose pay was held down in tandem; fortunately, now it will rise, and perhaps keep some talented people in federal service who would otherwise have left.
Unfortunately, the House didn't blow the whistle on the Senate's attempt to raise its own pay surreptitiously; in conference committee, each house in effect let the other set its own pay raise. The Senate did this by removing any limit from the amount of outside income senators can earn from speeches and the like. This means that well-known senators, or those heading subcommittees of special interest to special interests, will be able to earn much more than the nominal salary and still say they haven't taken a pay raise. That only increases the often well-justified suspicion that well-positioned interests have effectively purchased votes on Capitol Hill.
There are undoubtedly other tawdry measures to be found in the fine print of the continuing resolution and in the gas tax bill, which, as we write, has not finally been passed. On other measures, two bad results deserve attention. Conferences on the agriculture appropriations bill caved into the cereal and sugar lobbies and inserted into the committee report language that would allow sugared cereals, chocolate milk and other high-sugar foods in the WIC feeding program that provides nutritional food supplements to malnourished infants and nursing mothers. Government agencies have been known to ignore committee report language in the past, and the Agriculture Department would do well to ignore this last-minute interjection, particularly since it was not part of either the Senate or the House bill.
The House did get brave and voted down three venerable pork barrel measures: the Clinch River breeder reactor and the Garrison Diversion and O'Neill water projects. But Senate supporters of these projects--and on Clinch River they include Majority Leader Howard Baker--prevailed in conference. Along with other outmoded and wasteful public-works projects, they'll live on, albeit with some limits, durable monuments to the maxim that a tight budget can always be stuffed a little tighter for the special interests of powerful legislators.