A new survey on a controversial 50 percent pay raise for members of Congress and top federal officials concluded Wednesday that about 62 percent of the House would oppose the increase if it came up for a vote.
The survey, by groups opposed to the pay raise, was released as House Speaker Jim Wright conducted his own questionnaire on the pay issue that left open the possibility of a House vote.Wright, who had planned to allow the increase to become law Feb. 8 without a vote in the House, now says members can have a vote if they express that view in the survey. But the speaker said he expected members to tell him what they already communicated privately: they want the raise without a vote, even if the Senate defeats the pay hike as expected this week.
The raise would become law Feb. 8 unless both houses vote to stop it.
The new survey said 270 House members, or about 62 percent, said they would oppose the raise if it came to a vote. Forty-seven, or about 11 percent, said they would support the raise; 75 members, about 17 percent, declined to state a position, and 41 members, about 9 percent, declined to respond.
Of those willing to take a position, 85 percent said they opposed the raise, according to the survey, conducted by Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader; the National Taxpayers Union, a non-partisan organization of fiscal conservatives; and Coalitions for America, a conservative organization headed by activist Paul Weyrich.
"A failure to vote on this issue would be a fundamental breakdown of democracy," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen.
Wright said Tuesday he asked for his survey in order to prove he is not a dictator preventing a vote, but a leader who is following the private wishes of members.
While House members were sending their survey answers to Wright, Senate opponents of the raise told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that the increase was too big, and that the system was flawed by allowing it to become law without a vote.
Sen. Gordon Humphrey, R-N.H., said the system sets a bad example for young Americans and commented, "What must they think of us, when we run from accountability, as cockroaches run from bright light?"
"A pay raise without a timely vote in both houses is stealing," he said.
Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. said he was worried about Congress' reputation because, "People all over the United States are saying, `They're a bunch of crooks.' "
But committee member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said the raise was needed, especially for judges and federal officials.
"What does it cost government to have incompetent people at the top?" Stevens asked.
Tuesday, supporters of the pay plan urged that the increase at least be approved for judges and top federal executives, even if lawmakers are unwilling to raise their own salaries.
The raise will become law next Wednesday unless both houses vote to stop it. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, said senators will vote Thursday or Friday, and an Associated Press Survey indicates at least 88 of them will oppose the raise.