House Speaker Jim Wright, moving to limit political damage from a proposed 50 percent congressional pay raise, said Thursday the House would vote next week on cutting the increase to 30 percent.
Wright said the House would also vote on banning members from receiving speaking fees and other honorariums. Because House members currently can retain up to 30 percent of salary in honorariums, those receiving the maximum would receive no actual raise."The House will vote next week to ban all honorariums and to cut the pay raise to 30 percent instead of 50 percent. That'll make it just come out even," Wright told reporters.
He did not make clear whether the vote would take place before the raise for members of Congress, federal judges and top executive branch officials becomes law next Wednesday.
He hinted that the vote could come before then because a pay increase for judges cannot be reduced once it becomes law. The Senate planned to vote either Thursday or Friday and was virtually certain to turn down the 50 percent raise, which would boost most congressional salaries from $89,500 to $135,000.
Wright said "of course there's always a chance" that his proposal would be defeated. But he said he was encouraged by answers given by 326 House members to a survey he conducted this week on the pay raise.
Without announcing the results, Wright said:
"They indicate that the members feel that they should give up the honorariums and they should substitute a straightforward, upfront way in which they would receive and all other people in the government would receive a decent raise, but not an exorbitant raise, and that they ought to vote to do it. I think it's upbeat."
Wright has tried to convince his colleagues for weeks to reduce the raise to 30 percent but told reporters previously the members were privately telling him they wanted 50 percent without a vote.
The raise process was condemned as a charade by consumer advocate Ralph Nader and four senators during a hearing by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
"What a perfect system for evading accountability," said Sen. Gordon Humphrey, R-N.H., in a voice ringing with outrage. "We get the dough and leave no footprints.
"By now most adults are turned off to the Congress," he said. "But think of what we are doing to our youth. What must they think of us, when we run from accountability, as cockroaches run from bright light."
Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., said the affair is eroding public respect for Congress.
"The people are saying the Congress is a bunch of crooks," Helms said. "It is not so, but this hits them right in the pocketbook. They are resentful and rightfully so."
Nader, who has long championed consumer rights, said members of Congress already are earning "probably upward of 99 percent" more money than the average American, in addition to generous benefits.
Nader accused the House, by not holding substantive legislative sessions until the pay raise becomes effective, of "playing hooky until it gets the raise. Government by hypocrisy is bad for democracy."
CBS News surveyed 145 members of the House and found that 65 percent would vote against the raise and 16 percent favored it.
Another poll of 270 House members by a coalition of public policy groups, including the National Taxpayers Union, found that 62 percent would vote against the pay raise.