Pay issue raises hob in House. Democrats say Senate colleagues botched a deal
Members of the House of Representatives will close their eyes, grit their teeth, and kiss an extra $12,100 a year goodbye. Salary increases for top federal officials, including lawmakers, were supposed to go into effect today by President Reagan's order.
But House members are expected to vote overwhelmingly to block the order that would have brought congressional salaries up to $89,500 a year. (Federal judges will still get a raise under the order.)
``It wasn't supposed to be this way,'' grumbles one California Democrat.
In fact, the honeymoon between the Democratic House and newly Democratic Senate seems to have come to an unceremonious end over the sensitive issue of congressional salaries.
House members are ripping at the Senate, which was supposed to have spared them the pain of voting to decline a pay raise. Without a vote, the raises would have automatically taken effect.
``We thought we had a deal with the leadership in the Senate,'' one Massachusetts Democrat says.
The deal was said to be this: The Senate would vote for a resolution to strike the pay raise and send it over to the House for its approval.
The House would shelve the resolution in a subcommittee and do nothing. Senators would enjoy the political glory of having voted against a pay increase. Then, everybody in Congress would get a 16 percent salary hike.
But, as might be expected in the labyrinthine world of congressional politics, things did not work out as planned. Last Thursday, zealous senators attached the resolution disapproving the pay raise to a bill providing $50 million in emergency shelter and food aid to the homeless.
Thus, Senate opponents of the pay raise virtually assured that the House would vote against the salary increases, if only so as not to bottle up the politically popular homeless-aid bill.
House Democrats thought their Senate counterparts, led by majority leader Robert C. Byrd (D) of West Virginia, had agreed not to link the disapproval resolution to legislation such as the homeless bill.
But Senator Byrd says he had no choice - that he ``couldn't keep amendments off'' the homeless bill.
That has not prevented a number of House Democrats from questioning Mr. Byrd's leadership in the new Senate.
``He's a legendary parliamentarian, he should have been able to do something,'' says one.
No one claims that the two Democratic chambers will not be able to coordinate strategy on major pieces of legislation as a result of this interchamber tiff.
But ``it's a bad start,'' says one senior Democrat. ``There's an old saying: If somebody fools you once, it's his fault; if he fools you twice, it's yours.''