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House Votes to Skip Raise, Joining Senate : Legislation: Action on pay comes as jobless benefits bill gets congressional approval and is signed into law by Clinton over GOP protests.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Members of the House followed the Senate’s example Thursday and voted unanimously to freeze their pay.

The 403 to 0 vote means that a $2,762 raise that had been scheduled to take effect next Jan. 21 will not take effect.

The action--holding congressional pay at $133,644 for the next 22 months at least--came as the House gave final approval to a $5.7-billion measure to extend jobless benefits for an estimated 2 million Americans who will exhaust their regular unemployment compensation this year.

Only a few hours later, Clinton signed the bill into law to continue the extended benefits program that otherwise would have expired at midnight Saturday.

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“Some of the indicators are that we are coming out of a long and deep recession. But as all of you know this has been a slow, anemic recovery when it comes to job growth, especially,” the President said at a White House signing ceremony.

“We have extended unemployment benefits--now it is time to extend jobs,” the President added.

Former President George Bush approved three previous extensions of the benefits but in each case the legislation included necessary funding, in keeping with the “pay as you go” provisions of the 1990 budget agreement between Congress and the White House. The measure Clinton signed avoided those provisions by declaring the outlays to be “an emergency.”

Under the bill’s provisions, jobless workers in California, West Virginia, Alaska, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington, the states with the highest unemployment rates, would be eligible for up to 26 weeks of additional benefits while claimants in all other states would qualify for 20 more weeks of payments. Jobless workers in Puerto Rico would also be entitled to 26 weeks under the measure.

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In deciding to forgo their cost-of-living adjustment, saving $2 million next year, Congress clearly hoped to send a signal to the public that it is eager to join in the “shared sacrifice” requested by the President to reduce red-ink spending.

“Members of Congress desire to show that they are going first,” explained Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.), alluding to the impact on taxpayers later this year from the massive spending cuts and tax increases that are expected to be approved as part of Clinton’s economic program.

“I think we all must tighten our belt and get down to the business of reducing our deficit,” Rep. James H. Quillen (R-Tenn.) told the Associated Press. “A good place to start is right here.”

But Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) said that Congress had little choice. “There is no way in the world we can justify taking a (cost-of-living increase) when we are asking all federal workers to freeze their pay,” Berman said.

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The President has proposed a similar one-year pay freeze for all federal and congressional employees in 1994 and reduced cost-of-living increases from 1995-97, for savings of $8 billion over four years. The plan has drawn sharp criticism from federal employee unions and may be modified during congressional consideration of the Clinton package.

Congress is expected to use the budget knife on itself again later this year when it approves appropriations for the legislative branch. Rep. Vic Fazio (D-West Sacramento), chairman of the key subcommittee that deals with congressional spending, said that he expects to make at least a 4% cut this year in the budget for House operations and administration and for supporting agencies such as the Library of Congress and General Accounting Office.

Some Republicans already have proposed far larger reductions in congressional outlays--up to 25% of the Senate-House budget--in a year when it appears to be good politics to dramatize economizing on Capitol Hill.

But passage of the jobless benefits extension by top-heavy margins in both the Senate and House was a clear victory for the President, with Democrats holding ranks despite Republican criticism that the bill would add billions to the federal deficit.

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“This is another example of the end of gridlock,” said Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.). “In two short weeks, the Congress and the new Administration have worked together to ensure that Americans in need will continue to receive unemployment benefits.”

But Rep. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said that the jobless benefits bill sets a bad precedent for the Clinton Administration because it sends a message: “Do the politically popular thing and pay for it later--that’s what people are tired of.”

The House approved the bill in its final form by a vote of 247 to 156, largely along party lines. The Senate had approved identical legislation, 66 to 33, Wednesday.

Jobless Bill at a Glance

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Here’s a look at the unemployment benefits bill sent to President Clinton on Thursday: Cost: $5.7 billion. Goal: Under the bill, unemployed workers would be allowed to continue receiving jobless benefits after their six months of state help expires. Without congressional action, the extended benefits program would have expired Saturday. Who’s covered? About 2 million workers who will exhaust their regular 26 weeks of unemployment payments. How long will it last? Workers in states with unemployment rates of at least 9%, such as California, would get an additional 26 weeks of benefits. Workers in other states get 20 more weeks.

HOW CALIFORNIA DELEGATION VOTED Here is how California’s U.S. House delegation voted on the bill: Democrats for--Becerra, Beilenson, Berman, Brown, Condit, Dellums, Dixon, Dooley, Edwards, Eshoo, Fazio, Filner, Hamburg, Harman, Lantos, Lehman, Martinez, Matsui, Mineta, Pelosi, Roybal-Allard, Schenk, Stark, Torres, Waters, Waxman, Woolsey Republicans for--Horn, Democrats against--none Republicans against--Baker, Calvert, Cunningham, Doolittle, Dornan, Dreier, Gallegly, Herger, Huffington, Hunter, Kim, Lewis, McCandless, McKeon, Moorhead, Packard, Pombo, Rohrabacher, Royce, Thomas Democrats not voting--Miller, Tucker Republicans not voting--Cox The pay freeze: The House vote on the amendment to freeze Congress’ pay at $133,644 for a year was unanimous, 403 to 0, but three members abstained and 25 did not vote. There are four vacancies in the 435-member House. Californians who did not vote on the amendment were Walter R. Tucker III, a Compton Democrat, and Christopher Cox, a Newport Beach Republican.

Source: Times wire reports


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