House opens the way for fourth straight raise in pay

Friday, July 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Lawmakers appear ready to give themselves another pay raise, their fourth in four years.

If the raise, about $5,000 a year, goes into effect, rank-and-file members of Congress would receive $155,000, an increase of more than $20,000 over the past decade.

Under a 1989 law, congressional pay raises, determined by a complicated formula that includes a measure of private industry employment costs, go into effect automatically unless lawmakers vote to block it.

House lawmakers cleared the way Thursday for the salary hike.

Showdowns over pay raises traditionally take place during debate on the annual spending bill for the Treasury Department and related agencies, but a 258-156 procedural vote at the opening of that debate effectively prevented lawmakers from offering an amendment to kill the raise.

The only lawmaker to speak against the raise was Rep. James Matheson, D-Utah. ``We can't afford it, last year's government surpluses are long gone, we are swimming in red ink, we are fighting a war. We shouldn't be asking the taxpayers to pay us more,'' he said.

The congressional raise is estimated to be about 3.3 percent. The Treasury bill for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 includes a 4.1 percent cost-of-living increase for civilian federal employees, equal to a raise approved for military personnel.

The 3.3 percent pay raise, which would go into effect in January, would also apply to more than 1,000 top executive branch officials, including the vice president, and members of the congressional leadership. The vice president, like the Speaker of the House, now gets $192,600 while House and Senate majority and minority leaders receive $166,700.

The president's salary of $400,000 a year is unaffected by the congressional increase.

America's first members of Congress received pay of $6 a day. In 1855, compensation was set at $3,000 a year. It hit $10,000 in 1935, $60,000 in 1979, and went above $100,000 in 1991. The pay level stalled at $133,600 during the mid-1990s with lawmakers wary of giving themselves a raise when the federal budget was in deficit, but has risen steadily since then.