In midnight vote, Senate opens door to giving themselves $4,900 pay hike

Saturday, December 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Members of Congress are on their way to a $4,900 pay raise in January as the Senate used a midnight vote to thwart lawmakers who tried to block it.

After a debate that lasted five minutes late Friday night, the Senate used a 65-33 procedural vote to defeat an effort by Sens. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., to stop the increase from taking effect. Under a 1989 law, legislators get an annual cost-of-living raise unless the House and Senate vote to block it, a mechanism that often lets the increases take effect with little notice.

The latest boost is for 3.4 percent and will raise members' annual salaries to $150,000.

``Every member has to live with his own conscience and decisions,'' Campbell said. ``But there certainly are members who fall into that category of vote no and take the dough.''

Feingold questioned the timing of a congressional pay boost when ``our economy is in a recession and hundreds of thousands of workers have been laid off.'' He also noted that the string of four straight budget surpluses is now expected to end.

No senator responded.

Fourteen of the 30 senators running for re-election next year voted against the pay raise. Two who will retire in January _ Sens. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, and Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. _ voted for the increase, while a third retiree _ Jesse Helms, R-N.C. _ did not vote.

Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., both voted to block the increase.

The House has already passed legislation opening the door for the pay increase.

The January increase will be the third congressional pay raise in the last four years. Before this period, lawmakers increased their salaries less frequently, but the political risk faded as the economy boomed and federal surpluses soared in the late 1990s.

By tradition, the annual spending bill for the Treasury Department is the battleground for congressional pay raises.

The final version of that bill, which lacked language blocking the pay raise, overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate this fall and was signed into law by President Bush on Nov. 12.

But this year, Feingold held off on his attempt to block the raise. Friday's vote came as the Senate debated the defense spending bill.