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Salary Boosts On Capitol Hill

Members of Congress are well on their way to a $4,600 pay raise in January, while the next president may find himself or herself earning twice what President Clinton does.

With virtually no debate and using an arcane procedure, the House quietly voted 276-147 Thursday to give representatives and senators a 3.4 percent pay boost to $141,300.

Now that neither the House nor Senate have voted to block the otherwise automatic annual increase, it seems virtually certain to take effect in January.

With far more openness, the House then voted to double the next president's salary to $400,000 in 2001. The key vote was a 334-82 roll call killing a conservative amendment to a Treasury Department spending bill that would have blocked the presidential pay boost.

It would be the chief executive's first pay raise since the old $100,000 salary was doubled in 1969. But the Senate's Treasury bill, approved July 1, leaves the current $200,000 salary intact, leaving questions about what the final House-Senate Treasury bill will do.

The House approved the $28 billion Treasury bill by the slimmest of margins, 210-209. Most Democrats opposed it, citing spending cuts in the Internal Revenue Service and other agencies. GOP opposition was largely due to language requiring most federal employees' health plans to cover prescription contraceptives.

In these flush economic times, lawmakers said hardly a word about the congressional pay raise before voting for it. That was a stark contrast to years past, when the congressional pay question often provoked heated battles.

The vote came on a procedural motion governing the debate rules for the Treasury bill—which both parties' leaders had signaled would, in effect, be the vote on whether to allow the raise.

Under a 1989 law, lawmakers get an annual raise unless they vote to deny it, a mechanism that has at times let them avoid taking politically risky votes. A formula in the law links the increase to the boost federal workers will receive, which President Clinton has proposed to be 4.4 percent next year.

The vote on legislators' salaries underlined the favorable political climate for the first raise since January 1998 and the second since 1993.

Most members of Congress earn $136,700 annually, but leaders get more, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., earning a top of $175,400. The increase will be 3.4 percent—by law rounded to the nearest $100—pushing most lawmakers to $141,300 and Hastert to $181,400.

To avoid a replay of past accusations that lawmakers gave themselves a raise in the dark of night, Hastert and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., agreed to the roll-call vote. Both men voted for the boost, and party leaders had met repeatedly to make sure there would be broad bipartisan support.

Supporters of an increase in presidential pay said if George Washington's $25,000 annual salary was adjusted for inflation, it would now be $4 million.

By Alan Fram

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