The House Appropriations legislative subcommittee yesterday approved adding $50,000 next year to each member's clerk hire fund in a move designed to allow them to give pay raises to their personal staffs.
The additional $80 million would put House employees in line for pay increases that already have been given to all members of Congress, officers of the House and many top committee staff aides. The House members will not be able to use the additional funds to employ more than the 22 people now allotted to them, a House officer said.
In justifying the additional money, Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) said that members had not been able to give more than cost-of-living raises to staffers for more than a decade and that higher Senate salaries had turned the House into a "farm club for the Senate." Noting that the average House member's top office assistant had only two years' experience on Capitol Hill, Obey complained that members had to "rely on a Kiddie Corps" to meet staffing needs.
During their two-hour markup of the fiscal 1991 legislative branch appropriations bill, the members ducked the growing controversy over taxpayer-financed House mailings.
The subcommittee approved $30 million to pay off part of the overspending by House members on mass mailings this election year, and set a $59 million overall House limit on "franked" mailings next year. But the panel failed to recommend specific changes to assure the House stayed within its official mail appropriations figure.
Instead, subcommittee Chairman Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) said various plans will be presented next week to the House Rules Committee, where the stage will be set for a floor debate on the franking issue, currently scheduled to take place Aug. 2.
Fazio said there had been "no accountability" for how much each individual House member had spent on franked mail in the past and that "rank hypocrisy" had governed some of the recent debate. Members who had been big mailers, he said, have portrayed themselves publicly as supporting tough restrictions. He did not mention any names.
Fazio said he favored giving each member a mailing allowance of "about $160,000" a year with no restrictions on its use. "When that runs out," Fazio said, "he'll get no more."
That figure would permit at least four mass mailings a year to each household in an average member's district along with a significant amount of first-class mail to answer constituent letters, according to congressional sources. Some members, according to filings with the House Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards, currently send up to 10 mass mailings a year.
Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said he also wanted any plan to emphasize public disclosure of spending on mailings.
Fazio agreed, adding that with a disclosure system, "the mystery of who is mailing so much will be gone."
Obey, who repeatedly stated his concerns with any attempt to limit how much a member could mail, pointed out that national lobbying groups can attack members through direct-mail campaigns to constitutents. "If members demonstrate they are targets of lobbying operations," Obey said, "they need consideration and latitude" in how much mail they send.
In other actions, the subcommittee:
Deferred spending $10 million to build a new printing and mailing facility for the House on a plot of ground across the Anacostia River adjacent to Bolling Air Force Base.
Approved additional funds for House committees to cover 42 additional employees.
Encouraged the U.S. Capitol Police to add civilians instead of uniformed officers to jobs that do not require police officers, a practice followed by the Senate.
Overall, the subcommittee approved $1 billion for operation of the House and congressional support agencies next year along with another $700 million for other legislative branch activities such as the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office.
An additional $500 million for operations of the Senate will be approved by that body, putting total appropriations at about $2.2 billion.