Constituents Say No Way to Pay Raises for Congressmen
When local aides to San Fernando Valley congressmen answer the phone these days, they are often confronted with angry constituents who want their representatives to just say no to a proposed 50% pay increase for members of Congress and other top federal officials.
“There’s a definite opposition in the community to it,” said John Frith, a spokesman for Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), whose Chatsworth and Thousand Oaks offices are receiving an average of seven calls a day on the issue. Others have sent letters, including a Simi Valley woman who wrote: “Read my lips. No pay hike.”
The Tarzana and Westwood offices of Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles) have received about 60 calls and letters on the pay raise proposal, 90% in opposition, said spokeswoman Joan Shaffran.
Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City), meanwhile, has logged 50 calls and 15 letters at his district office, all but five opposing the pay hike, said administrative assistant Marc Litchman. Another 43 calls and letters reached his Washington office.
And Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) has received as many as 50 calls, most of them critical of the proposal, said district office coordinator Keiko Shimabukuro. She said no other issue was provoking as much public response.
A White House commission unanimously recommended in December that members of Congress, federal judges, Cabinet members and other top-level officials get large pay increases. President Reagan included the raises in his proposed budget Monday. The raises will automatically take effect Feb. 9 unless both the House and Senate vote them down.
Under the plan, which appears likely to become law, salaries for members of Congress will be raised from $89,500 to $135,000 a year, with the same increase for federal district judges. Cabinet members’ salaries will go from $99,500 to $155,000; Reagan’s annual pension will be boosted by the same amount. The pay plan will cost taxpayers an estimated $300 million a year.
The Quadrennial Commission on Executive, Legislative and Judicial Salaries also recommended that the salary boost be linked to a ban on honorariums, the much-criticized payments by special-interest groups to lawmakers for speeches or writing. Democratic legislative leaders have vowed to introduce legislation to accomplish this.
Without the raise, the commission said, the buying power of top federal officials’ pay will have decreased 35% during the last two decades. Nevertheless, consumer activist Ralph Nader called the raises “the biggest salary grab in U.S. history.”
Gallegly opposes the pay increase. Berman and Waxman have not taken a stand on it. Beilenson, for the first time Wednesday, voiced support for the measure, though he said he would prefer a more modest raise.
“It’s the worst thing politically,” Beilenson said. “The vast majority of my colleagues are unable to live on their salaries and keep eating slowly into their savings. I know that has been true with us.”
But, he added: “I don’t blame people for not being terribly supportive of higher pay for congressmen. Some of us, myself included, are worth at least the amount they’re proposing, some of us are worth more, and some are undoubtedly worth less.”
The issue is far simpler to Tom Leykis, a KFI radio talk show host who for the past week has crusaded against the pay plan daily and urged listeners to do the same.
“I think they’re overcompensated considering the financial morass this county’s fallen into,” Leykis said in an interview.
Leykis said the controversy has inspired hundreds of on-the-air calls, which are running more than eight to one against the pay hike. He said the public is most angry that Reagan backed a salary plan that would increase his own pension by 56%.
Nevertheless, it is not even this month’s hottest topic for Leykis. He said he has received more calls about a recent talk-show guest who “runs a dating service for women who only want to date well-endowed men.”