Surrendering to public outrage, Congress formally rejected a controversial 51 percent pay raise Tuesday hours before it was scheduled to take effect automatically.
The House voted 380-48 to kill the raise, with all three Utahns voting with the majority and praising the vote as an example of "democracy in action."The Senate voted by crushing margins to reject the pay raise. The Senate vote on the House version of the resolution was different than a resolution the Senate passed 95-5 last week. The Senate vote came late Tuesday afternoon amid some worry that senators favoring the raise might try to filibuster.
With both houses approving the resolution, it will be sent to President Bush for his signature before the 12:01 a.m. EST Wednesday deadline.
If for some reason he does not sign it, the raise from $89,500 to $135,000 a year for Congress could still take effect. But White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Bush would sign the bill, which also scuttles large pay increases for federal judges and senior officials of the executive branch. "The president will abide by the wishes of Congress," Fitzwater said.
Utah's House members - who had opposed the raise - hailed the action as a victory against what had seemed overwhelming odds. "I opposed the raise all along," said Republican Howard Nielson.
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, added, "It seemed clear to me that my constituents were opposed to a congressional pay increase, so I took an active part in defeating the raise."
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said the vote is "additional proof, if any was necessary, that members of Congress listen to their constituents and shows that even the speaker of the House is not insensitive to public outcry. This is democracy in action."
The raise had seemed a virtual certainty earlier when House Speaker Jim Wright originally planned to allow it automatically to take effect by not allowing a vote to reject it by the deadline.
As pressure grew from upset constituents, Wright announced a somewhat softer position to allow the 51 percent raise to take effect, but to vote afterward to lower it to 30 percent.
Then House members rebelled on Monday, when those loyal to Wright and the pay raise could not muster enough votes to adjourn to avoid a priority motion made by Republicans for a vote on the raise. So Wright announced that the vote would be Tuesday.> Nielson had to miss his own health conference in Utah to come back early on Monday for the vote to force the pay raise vote on Tuesday. "I felt I had to because I was one of the more outspoken opponents of the pay raise. We tried the same maneuver two years ago, but we didn't have enough votes then."
Nielson said, "I've said all along that there ought to be a vote on this. I oppose the raise. I think it is too high. I don't think this is something we should give ourselves when we have a deficit to solve.
"I had 37 town meetings in my district with more than 1,000 people attending, and I only found three who favored the raise," he said.> Hansen said, "My one regret is that executive and judicial salaries will also remain the same. I believe we will see an exodus from public service of some very talented individuals, and as a result, our government will suffer."
The raise was opposed vociferously by such people outside government as consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who complained that Congress didn't deserve the raise because of the many perks it has and because it was trying to take care of itself before the needy and other government workers.
But the raise had been supported by the watchdog group Common Cause, which hoped Congress would give itself a raise in exchange for banning honorariums - the ethically questionable practice of accepting fees for giving speeches to groups wanting to influence legislation.
Stories in the press have also quoted congressmen - and especially their wives - saying that living on $89,500 a year in high-priced Washington is difficult, especially when congressmen must have a home there and in their districts, have cars in each location and entertain more than the average citizen.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, while not defending the raise, also said recently that most people do not realize how high the cost of living in Washington is. "A house that costs $50,000 in Utah costs $250,000 here - really. And then you have to live 20 miles out to even be able to find something like that."
In the House debate on the pay raise Tuesday, Rep. Vin Fazio, D-Calif., complained members allowed themselves to become fodder for "cartoons and trash TV" by not better explaining the need for the raise, and predicted they will continue to supplement their income with honorariums - which judiciary and executive officials may not do.
Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., said, "The bashing we have received from the press on this issue not only demeans us, it demeans all those in government service. . . . You deserve a raise."