House opponents of a 50 percent congressional pay raise said Thursday they can't stop the increase, despite growing Senate opposition to the higher salary.

Rep. Thomas J. Tauke, R-Iowa, a leading opponent of the raise, said he's now focusing on a long-range strategy that would roll back the increase, and change the system that permits it to become law without a vote.And Rep. Robert C. Smith, R-N.H., who has organized a House letter-writing drive to Speaker Jim Wright demanding a vote, said, "We cannot budge the speaker."

"What the House leadership is trying to do is prevent a vote on the salary issue," said Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah. "And I think it is rather cowardly on the speaker's part to do that."

Legislation that would reject the pay raise, and roll it back should it take effect, was introduced Wednesday in the Senate. The legislation had a dozen sponsors in the morning, and 23 by day's end.

The proposed pay raise for members of Congress, judges and top executive branch officials would become law automatically Feb. 8 unless each chamber rejects it. Rank-and-file lawmakers would see their pay go from $89,500 to $135,000.

Opponents of the raise were grasping at anything that could give them momentum Wednesday.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, a co-sponsor of the legislation to roll back the pay raise, remembered that President Bush said he would "have something to say" about the raise after he was inaugurated.

Grassley wrote Bush on Wednesday, "You must choose between aligning yourself with Speaker (Jim) Wright and a dozen in the House leadership who favor the raise . . . and the 85 percent of the American people who oppose the issue."

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater told reporters, "we are watching congressional action at the moment."