House Speaker Jim Wright, bowing to opponents of a 51 percent congressional pay raise, announced Monday he would order a roll call vote on the issue Tuesday before the boost can take effect.
"The majority has spoken and the majority will speak even more emphatically tomorrow. The majority will rule," he said.Wright, D-Texas, made the announcement from the House floor after opponents of the $45,500 increase won a key procedural vote on the subject, defeating an effort by the Democratic leadership to adjourn the House until Tuesday.
An attempt to adjourn is normally such a routine procedure that it does not require a roll call vote. But in this case one was ordered and was rejected on a 238-88 vote that showed opponents held the upper hand.
The pay raise is scheduled to take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday. The Senate already has voted against the raise.
The vote and Wright's subsequent announcement came after Majority Leader Thomas Foley, D-Wash., who was presiding over the day's House session, refused to recognize a pay-raise opponent who wanted to introduce a resolution calling for a vote on the hike.
That set the stage for more than 30 minutes of barbed debate between the two sides.
Rep. Arthur S. Ravenel, R-S.C., said the House was engaging in a "shameful pay raise conspiracy" by taking a money without voting for it.
But Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., accused unnamed House members of "hypocrisy" by speaking out publicly against the raise and indicating privately that they wanted the money.
Rep. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she was going to be watching public opponents of the raise carefully to see whether they pocket the money. "I hope the press will be watching," added Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.
The proposed congressional pay is part of a package that would increase the salaries of federal judges as well as senior officials and managers in the executive branch. For members of the House and the Senate, the increase would amount to a raise from $89,500 to $135,000 a year.
It was not immediately clear whether the vote that Wright set for Tuesday would affect the recommended increases for judges and administration officials.
Wright's decision to order the vote capped a remarkable retreat for the speaker.
As recently as last week he insisted there would be no vote on the pay raise. He attempted to lessen the political damage by spreading the word that the House would vote swiftly on legislation that would ban payment for honoraria for speeches and impose other curtailments on outside compensation.
Later in the week, he conducted a private survey of House members and said the results showed they did not want a vote before the raise took effect. Despite that, random surveys by The Associated Press and other organizations showed that sentiment was in favor of a vote.
By late last week, Wright had said he would seek to scale the 50 percent pay raise back to 30 percent while banning honoraria.
Throughout the maneuvering, House Republican leaders lent their silent support to Wright's efforts to avoid a vote. Minority Leader Robert Michel, R-Ill., sat silently in his seat on the House floor during Monday's debate and vote.
The Senate voted 95-5 last Thursday to reject the entire raise for Congress and other top federal officials, but it will become law automatically Wednesday under a special procedure unless the House also turns it down.
The raise would apply to Congress, top Bush administration political appointees and judges, but the Constitution prevents reduction of judges' pay once they receive a raise.
Under Wright's proposal to let the raise become law, rank-and-file lawmakers would see their salaries rise Wednesday from $89,500 to $135,000. The speaker's plan would scale that back to $116,350.
The Senate already has voted to offset the 51 percent raise partially by banning honoraria while the higher pay is in effect. The House plans to pass its own package to ban speaking fees and limit other outside income.
Public reaction to the congressional pay raise has been overwhelmingly negative. Dozens of protesters shouting "No pay hike," "Read our lips" and "Hey Mr. Speaker, haven't you heard, 50 percent is quite absurd," Sunday night met Democratic House members returning to Union Station from a weekend retreat at the luxurious Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.
The lawmakers had earlier wondered aloud whether any strategy would satisfy the public - and let them keep a pay raise.
"It'll sort of be like Andy Warhol said: We'll be rich for 15 minutes," said Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y.
While lawmakers wrestle with their own pay this week, they'll also be working on solutions to protect the money that millions of Americans have in shaky savings and loans. About 350 insolvent S&Ls remain operating after regulators "rescued" 205 last year with promissory notes and loss guarantees.
Bush met over the weekend with his top advisers on the S&L issue, and while he gave no clue to his intentions, administration officials said an announcement could come early this week.
The Senate Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, is expected to vote by midweek on the nomination of former Sen. John G. Tower to be secretary of defense. The vote will take place after the panel receives an FBI report on what congressional sources say are new allegations of drinking and womanizing by the Texas Republican.
The 51 percent pay raise for Congress and executive branch political appointees could remain in effect for some time if the two houses are unable to resolve their differences.