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Congress Will Share Sacrifice on Pay Increases

By Helen Dewar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 1993; Page A13

Congressional leaders agreed yesterday to freeze salaries of lawmakers and their staffs next year in line with President Clinton's proposal to drop a 1994 cost-of-living increase for other federal employees.

Eager to avoid the wrath of voters for taking a pay increase while denying raises to other federal workers, lawmakers indicated – without audible dissent – that they will go along with their leaders' decision.

The plan will not affect the 3.2 percent congressional pay increase for 1993 that took effect Jan. 1, raising the salaries of House and Senate members to $133,644 a year.

A brief statement of support for a pay freeze was issued by the bipartisan leadership of both houses shortly after the Senate voted 98 to 0 for a nonbinding resolution committing senators to forgo an estimated 2.1 percent pay increase that would otherwise take effect next January.

In both houses, member after member expressed horror at the prospect of starting an election year by receiving pay increases that were being denied to all other federal workers.

"It's bad policy, it's bad politics . . . it's crazy. We'd be absolutely insane to give ourselves a pay raise and deny it to everyone else," said Sen. John Breaux (D-La.).

Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) put it another way. Asked if the nonbinding Senate resolution would eventually be given the force of law, Gramm laughed and said, "I don't think even the Second Coming would derail this {the freeze}. I suspect even the Lord Himself is for it."

The resolution was drafted and submitted by Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) and Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) after Sen. Paul D. Wellstone (D-Minn.) served notice he would try to impose a pay freeze as part of a package to cut committee costs by an estimated $4.7 million this year.

An effort to strike another blow for congressional cost-cutting by eliminating the Senate Special Committee on Aging – at an anticipated annual savings of about $1 million – failed on successive votes of 30 to 68 and 43 to 56.

A move to freeze congressional pay began spreading rapidly through Congress after Clinton proposed the pay freeze for executive branch workers in his State of the Union Address last week, surfacing first in a move by eight House Democratic freshmen to extend the pay freeze to Congress.

Under a law enacted in 1989, Congress made annual cost-of-living pay increases automatic for lawmakers as part of what was expected to be a continuation of the practice of yearly inflation adjustments for all federal workers. The idea was to take politics out of the pay issue and avoid the brutal fights over pay increases that erupted periodically on Capitol Hill.

But the bill's drafters apparently did not envision the political difficulties that would arise for lawmakers if a president froze all other federal pay, leaving them – along with federal judges, who are protected by the Constitution from pay rollbacks – as the government's only recipients of pay raises.

In their statement, House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.), House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) joined Mitchell and Dole in asserting that "parity of treatment with respect to salary" should prevail throughout the government.

They said they planned to write the congressional pay freeze into appropriate budget and spending measures, "thereby ensuring that all federal workers are treated equally."

"Six days is a short time in the legislative process," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who started the House freshman pay revolt last Thursday. "It's a victory for every member of Congress."

Staff writer Kenneth J. Cooper contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1993 The Washington Post

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