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Congress Votes Itself Pay Raise

Congress voted final approval Thursday on legislation doubling the next president's salary to $400,000 and letting lawmakers themselves receive pay boosts of $4,600 or more.

Also getting pay raises in January would be Vice President Al Gore, Cabinet secretaries and about 1,300 other top-level executive branch officials. By law, they get the same cost-of-living increases members of Congress do.

The raises - plus a 4.8 percent increase in federal civil servants' salaries - were part of a $28 billion measure financing the Treasury Department and some smaller agencies for the coming fiscal year. The Senate approved it by 54-38, a day after the House gave its endorsement by 292-126.

President Clinton is expected to sign the measure.

Spending bills generally pass the Senate by wider margins. Senators from both sides attributed Thursday's 38 "no" votes largely to anxiety over boosting their own salaries.

"I did not want to vote for a congressional pay raise," said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, who faces re-election next year.

The 3.4 percent boost - rounded to the nearest $100 - would raise most members' pay to $141,300 beginning in January.

Leaders earn more, topped by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who will make $181,400. Gore will also earn $181,400, while Cabinet secretaries will make $157,000.

By law, federal judges would also be entitled to the same 3.4 percent increase, but Congress must approve that separately.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., the measure's chief author, said he was "bothered" by the amount of opposition the congressional pay raise engendered.

"The ones who demagogue it most and voted against it are the ones who put it in their pockets," he told a reporter.

Campbell said he believes lawmakers deserve higher pay, and said their 3.4 percent increases were less than the 4.8 percent raises federal employees received. Even so, he said he donates his congressional pay raises to charity.

The salary boosts were not mentioned during the Senate's brief debate over the Treasury bill.

In fact, the bill does not even contain language increasing lawmakers' pay. A 1989 law grants annual congressional "cost-of-living" increases unless Congress votes to block them, and the Treasury measure is the traditional vehicle for doing that.

Lawmakers last gave themselves increases in 1998 and 1993. This year, the combination of a sturdy economy and a balanced federal budget led many lawmakers to conclude that the political climate for a pay raise was safe.

In one indication of that, of the 28 senators seeking re-election next year, 14 voted "yes," 13 voted "no" and one did not vote. Supporters included some senators who might face tough re-election fights next year, including Sens. James Jeffords, R-Vt., and Slade Gorton, R-Wash.

According to the private Congressional Accountability Proect, congressional pay began at $6 per day in session in 1789. As recently as 1965, it was $30,000.

The presidential pay raise encountered little congressional opposition. The increase will be the first since the salary was doubled in 1969.

Opponents of the congressional and presidential pay increases have contrasted the salaries with what average Americans earn, and cite health insurance, travel and other perks received by elected officials.

Supporters say the salaries should be high enough to attract talented people who would otherwise enter more lucrative fields.

With the House having fled Washington on Wednesday in advance of Hurricane Floyd, the vote occurred as senators chipped away at an imposing stack of spending bills for fiscal 2000, which starts Oct. 1.

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