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House Foes Concede Pay Hike Victory : GOP Bloc Accuses Wright of Barring Opportunity to Vote

Times Staff Writer

Republicans admitted defeat Thursday in their uphill battle to stop a 50% pay raise for members of Congress, federal judges and top executive branch officials but vowed to try later this year to cancel the congressional part.

A back-bench bloc of GOP opponents accused Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) of preventing a vote before the Feb. 8 deadline by scheduling only brief, pro forma sessions of the House during the next two weeks.

“We have the same chance that a high school team has against the San Francisco 49ers,” said Rep. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.), alluding to the Super Bowl victors. “We’re down to the two-minute drill, but the defense is strong, and we can’t budge the Speaker.”

Expect Ban on Honorariums

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A spokesman for Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced) said, however, that GOP leaders in the House agreed with top Democrats to let the pay raise take effect without a vote and then follow it up “within days” with legislation to ban honorariums to members of Congress by special interest groups.

In addition, according to Coelho press aide David Dreyer, a bipartisan group of four House members is considering how to ban the practice of allowing lawmakers to convert unspent campaign funds to their personal use when they leave Congress. Current restrictions on such funds apply only to members who took office after 1980, and the new measure would be directed at those elected earlier.

“This would be tough and comprehensive legislation,” the aide said.

While the Senate is expected to vote against the pay raise proposed by a White House commission and endorsed by then-President Ronald Reagan, it will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Feb. 8 unless the House also turns it down. Under the system used in setting the raises, they can go into effect without an affirmative vote.

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“For some senators, it’s a case of ‘vote no but take the dough,’ ” complained Rep. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.).

May Force Showdown

Rep. Tom Tauke (R-Iowa) said, however, that he and others are determined to force a showdown in the House later this year on the increase, which boosts Congress members’ salaries from $89,500 to $135,000 a year.

“You can run, but you can’t hide from this issue forever,” Tauke said. “It’s just devastating to try and deal with the deficit when members of Congress are the first ones at the public trough.”

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Since Democrats control the scheduling of legislative business, he said, foes of the pay raise would have to work out a coordinated strategy to force a vote on legislation rolling back the increase, at least for members of Congress.

Rep. Howard C. Nielson (R-Utah) said he was disappointed that Reagan did not scale back the pay increase recommended last month by a special commission headed by Lloyd N. Cutler, a Washington attorney.

“A 50% increase is way out of line,” Nielson said, adding that only two people out of thousands who attended meetings in his district are in favor of the pay raise.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Lomita) said he is concerned that congressional staff members and federal government workers also would demand large pay raises, touching off an “inflationary psychology” at the wrong time.

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Members of Congress, he said, spend too much time around people with big incomes. “They lose sight of people barely getting by on $40,000 or $20,000 a year. It would be a slap in the face to them to take the raise.”

An angry Rep. Joe Skeen (R-N.M.) declared that he was not going to accept the additional $45,500 a year.

“I’m going to give it to my favorite charity, the U.S. Treasury, and hope that they use it to reduce the deficit,” he said. “We haven’t earned it.”

Despite their collective fury, the protesting Republicans said they are far outnumbered by their colleagues, both Republican and Democratic, who are silently going along with the pay raise.

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Only 42 members, including 15 Democrats, have signed a resolution of disapproval and even fewer joined in a letter to Wright demanding that he allow a vote on the pay increase, Smith said.

A typical stance was taken by the new House Republican Whip Richard Cheney of Wyoming.

“He has said that if it comes to the floor, he’ll vote against it,” an aide said of Cheney. The way it looked Thursday, however, he won’t have to redeem that pledge.

THE FEDERAL PAY RAISE

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Congress is now not expected to block pay hikes that become law on Feb. 8 as a result of recommendations by a White House commission. The key annual salaries:

Job Current Pay New Pay House Speaker, Vice President and Chief Justice $115,000 $175,000 Majority, Minority leaders and Cabinet members $99,500 $155,000 Congress and federal district judges $89,500 $135,000

The commission also recommended a raise for the President from $200,000 a year to $350,000, effective in 1993, since there is a constitutional ban against increasing the chief executive’s pay during his term of office.

Source: Commission on Executive, Legislative and Judicial Salaries

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