Congress will have its 51 percent pay raise for at least one day next week. Then the House will vote on whether to cut it to a 30 percent hike instead.
House Speaker Jim Wright made that plan official at a press conference Thursday, trying to quell criticism about the larger raise. Ironically, he made the announcement in front of a painting of George Washington standing with a hand outstretched as if to receive money.Criticism of Wright's new plan erupted almost immediately because a no-raise option - which many conservatives favor - apparently will not be considered.
And because of parliamentary rules, two-thirds of the House - not just a simple majority - will have to vote for the lower raise if it is to take effect.
Wright admits that bills drafted to reduce the pay raise may be partially unconstitutional because they would also lower raises for the judiciary. Wright said that issue will likely be decided in court.
The 51 percent pay hike - from $89,500 to $135,000 a year - will take effect at 12:01 a.m. EST Wednesday unless both Houses vote before then to reject it. The Senate voted to reject it Friday, but Wright said the House likely will not vote on it before the deadline.
The Senate vote was 95-5, with both Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, voting to reject the raise.
But the day after the raise takes effect, Wright said the House will take two votes:
- First, to amend House rules to ban honorariums - the fees congressmen receive for giving speeches. That would be effective immediately, would affect only House members and would not require Senate action.
- Second, a vote to create a new law to ban honorariums in both the House and Senate and to lower the 51 percent pay hike to 30 percent - and have similarly lowered raises in the executive and judicial branches.
Wright said that banning honorariums "would ensure that we are serving one master and not two, that we are serving the American people."
He said the 30 percent pay hike coupled with the honorarium ban would essentially mean House members would break even financially.
That's because House members may now earn honorariums totaling 30 percent of their congressional salaries. That would be replaced by a 30-percent raise.
However, that situation may mean a pay decrease for senators, who may now earn honorariums totaling 40 percent of their congressional salary.
"I talked to the Senate majority leader about this. He didn't know how it would do there. I don't either," Wright said.
Utah's three House members don't think Wright's action goes far enough. "I don't think there should be any raise at all," said Rep. Howard Nielson.
Rep. Jim Hansen said, "I support a cost-of-living increase for Congress, the same as (for) other federal employees."
And Rep. Wayne Owens said, "I would support the 30 percent increase in exchange for banning honoraria. But I don't think it should take effect until after the next election, so that a sitting Congress doesn't raise its own salary."
All three Utah congressmen said public pressure has been intense. For example, Hansen said, "We have probably received tons of tea" attached to letters vowing a Boston Tea Party-type revolt if the raise is passed.
"The only staffer in the office who drinks tea would probably be set for life, but she's afraid to drink it because she thinks they may have put cyanide or something in the bags."
Pockets of plenty
These are the proposed pay increases which go into effect automatically unless turned down by the House before midnight Feb 7:
Vice president: $115,000 to $175,000
Cabinet secretary: $99,500 to $155,000
Member of Congress: $89,500 to $135,000
Associate justice: $110,000 to $165,000
Appellate judge: $95,000 to $140,000
District judge: $89,500 to $135,000
Executive level II: $89,500 to $135,000
Executive level III: $82,500 to $125,000
Executive level IV: $80,700 to $120,000
Executive level V: $75,500 to $115,000