WASHINGTON — A Washington question: What controversial proposal was pronounced as dead as a dodo bird five months ago, yet may fly before this year or next is out? Answer: A pay raise for Congress coupled with a ban on honorariums earned by members of Congress.
What enabled this idea to wing its way back from extinction was President Bush's call of late last week for an end to honorariums within 18 months. He linked such a ban to congressional enactment of a pay raise for senators and representatives, and said he would work with Congress to achieve this result.
After the public flogging Congress received early this year on a proposal to hike its pay 51 percent without having to vote on it, congressional leaders have been unwilling to propose a congressional salary increase without first gaining presidential support. That they now have done.
Most members of Congress, and Washington political observers, say the honorariums and salary must be linked if either is to become law. They point out that some members of Congress, especially those with college-age children, depend on honorariums to supplement their $89,500 annual salary: Thus Congress would be very reluctant to end honorariums without a pay raise.
At the same time it is believed the public would not tolerate a raise in congressional pay without an end to honorariums.
A Monitor survey of Congress reported last week that most members who responded supported an end to honorariums. Many also supported a pay raise tied to an honorariums ban.
President Bush's honorarium proposal came the same day as his call for Congress to increase by 25 percent the pay of most senior federal officials; previously he has asked that the salary of federal judges be increased by the same percentage. But Bush did not say how much he thought Congress should raise its own salary.