Clinton vetoes pay raise for legislators, senior executives

Late Monday night, President Clinton vetoed the Treasury-Postal/Legislative branch spending package, at least temporarily denying a pay raise to members of Congress and senior federal executives.

Clinton said Congress should complete its work on the Labor-HHS spending measure, which contains several of his priorities, before he signed a bill giving legislators a raise.

"The [Treasury-Postal] bill itself is all right," Clinton said Monday. "But there is something that strikes me as a little wrong in taking care of the Congress and the White House when we haven't taken care of the American people."

Since the pay of high-ranking career federal executives is tied to the pay scale for members of Congress, they do not receive increases unless Clinton signs legislation including the congressional raise.

"It's unfortunate that the congressional cost of living adjustment has once again become a red herring in the differences between Congress and the White House," said Senior Executives Association President Carol Bonosaro.

Even before Clinton announced his veto, Republicans on Capitol Hill denounced the move. A veto, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said Monday afternoon would be tantamount to "an open declaration of war" by the President.

Leaving the Senate floor Monday evening after passage of a continuing resolution to fund the government through midnight Tuesday, Stevens told reporters Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew had earlier told congressional leaders the President would veto the Treasury- Postal/Legislative Branch measure if Republicans did not file the final Labor-HHS spending bill Monday night.

"I told [Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.] I would never file a [conference] report under a threat from the President," Stevens thundered. "We will not be dictated to," he said.

The Labor-HHS package had been the subject of late-night talks between bipartisan appropriators and White House officials that yielded a tentative deal in the early morning hours Monday. But GOP leaders reversed course when they returned Monday--in particular over language about ergonomics rules and family planning efforts--prompting congressional Democrats and the administration to cry foul.

GOP leaders stressed that the Labor-HHS agreement was only tentative until they had looked it over. And they returned fire on the question of negotiating tactics, saying the President would be guilty of bad faith for vetoing the Treasury- Postal/Legislative Branch package after they answered his demand for another $350 million for IRS modernization and counter- terrorism initiatives.

One Senate aide underscored that Republicans had an "unequivocal, absolute, straightforward, look-you-in-the-eye" agreement the administration would sign the bill if Congress came up with the extra IRS and counter-terrorism money, which were included in the fiscal 2001 Transportation spending bill.

House Majority Whip DeLay said Monday, "If [Clinton] vetoes it, all bets are off" on the remaining FY2001 appropriations bills, while House Speaker Hastert said: "There's no objective reason for the president to veto the bill ... We made an agreement with them. They cashed that check."

Bonosaro said SEA has no view on the budget battle between the President and Congress.

"Our concern is that the congressional adjustment has been singled out in the course of the disagreements and negotiations yet again. How much worse can the executive service be than having 60 percent of all career executives earning the same salary? No corporation in the country would operate in that manner," she said.

Stephen Norton also contributed to this story.