Should Congress get a big pay raise this year?
Should members continue to be allowed outside speaking income?When the new Congress convenes next month, those questions may be answered.
At least the pay raise will be settled. Under current law, a commission recommends congressional pay raises, the president reviews that work and recommends a raise or no raise and unless both houses of Congress vote against the president's recommendation within 30 days.
The commission recommends that congressmen's pay go from $89,500 a year to $135,000, a whopping 51 percent pay hike.
But the commission also recommends that congressmen be barred from receiving any outside income, especially honoraria.
Honoraria are payments to congressmen by special interest groups for speeches or articles. Currently, senators can keep 40 percent of their salary in honoraria, House members can keep up to 30 percent.
Such money earned above those limits is given to charity, which allows the giver an income tax break on the earnings he keeps.
Critics refer to honoraria as legalized bribery. Congressmen respond that their votes can't be bought for a $1,000 or $2,000 speaking fee and that they need the money to live in expensive Washington, D.C., and also maintain a house in their home districts.
But the fact remains, congressmen get most of their honoraria from groups interested in influencing their votes.
Utah's delegation, which is not better or worse in the use of honoraria than any other congressional delegation, is an example.
Sen. Orrin Hatch is the ranking member of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, which oversees medical and drug legislation. In 1987, Hatch received $29,000 - a year's pay for most Utahns - from medical and drug groups.
Sen. Jake Garn is the ranking minority member of the Banking Committee. He received $23,000 in 1987 from speaking to banking groups.
Rep. Jim Hansen got only $7,000 in honoraria in 1986. But after being appointed to the House Armed Services Committee he got $18,000 in 1987, much of it in fees from 12 speeches to defense contractors.
And so it goes throughout Congress.
The citizen watchdog group Common Cause reports that total honoraria hit a record $9.8 million in 1987, the last full year for which congressional financial reports are available. That's a 30 percent increase over 1986.
Clearly, the use of honoraria by congressmen is out of control.
It speaks to the issue of ethics. And ethics is a hot subject these days.
Few House or Senate members are defeated these days - about 98 percent of the House incumbents seeking re-election this year won - if they keep their personal houses clean.
Indeed, Gunn McKay, in his race against Hansen, tried to make Hansen's acceptance of defense contractor money an issue. Hansen won, and by a bigger margin than he defeated McKay in 1986. But such attacks as McKay's dirty an incumbent's public reputation.
So honoraria may go by the wayside this year. Congressional observers say congressmen will - by not voting against President Reagan's recommended salary hikes - take a pay raise.
And some predict that a bill will immediately be introduced and voted on to do away with honoraria - with the hope that citizens will hold less of a grudge if such outside income is outlawed.
Congress should get a pay raise, I believe.
And congressmen should certainly do away with honoraria. Maybe a vote can't be bought for $1,000. But where is the line drawn? Can an industry influence a congressman with 10 $1,000 speeches? With 100 $1,000 speeches?
End the worry. End the temptation. End honoraria.