Senator warns colleagues not to vote against congressional pay raise

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., warned his colleagues last week not to vote against an annual congressional cost-of-living pay raise. The increase takes effect automatically, unless Congress includes language in a spending bill to block it. The $17.1 billion fiscal year 2002 spending bill covering the Treasury Department and the White House that the Senate Treasury-Postal Appropriations Subcommittee passed Thursday makes no mention of the annual congressional cost-of-living adjustment. The Treasury bill is typically the vehicle for measures blocking the COLA. Campbell, the subcommittee's ranking member, warned at Thursday's mark up that the issue could pop up in the spending bill when it reaches the Senate floor. If senators want to come down to the floor and protest the COLA, Campbell said he "may serve notice to both [Republican and Democratic] conferences" that he is ready to ask senators "on C-SPAN and in front of millions of voters if they did anything constructive with last year's money [from the COLA] or if they stuffed it in their pockets."

The issue, Campbell said, has been "demagogued" by members who wanted to show they were willing to forego a pay increase to prove they were serious about holding the line on government spending.

Unless Congress lets through the annual cost-of-living adjustment, the top rung of the Senior Executive Service cannot get a pay increase because SES members' salaries are tied to the pay schedule used by Congress. The Senior Executives Association has been trying for several years to convince Congress to raise the cap on executive pay. Currently, base pay plus locality pay for those at the top of the Senior Executive Service is capped at $133,700, the rate of pay on Level III of the political pay scale that covers members of Congress and Cabinet officials. The political pay scale's Level IV, which is $125,700 this year, is the cap on career executives' base pay. Congress has voted to block political pay raises every year since 1993, except for 1998, 2000 and 2001. Over time, more and more career executives have seen their salaries reach the pay cap, so that now executives at the top three of the six SES levels all earn the same amount of money. In eight cities, federal executives at the top four levels are all paid the same.

Legislation introduced in the House in May by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., (H.R. 1824) seeks to raise the pay cap on senior executives' base pay, allowing executives to get full raises, at least over the next few years, even if Congress doesn't allow political pay to rise. Sen. John Warner, R-Va, introduced a companion bill in the Senate (S.1129) in June.

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