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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Stop the Salary Grab

The problem with President Reagan’s Commission on the salaries of top government officials is that the millionaires are not. as well represented as the multimillionaires on the nine-member panel. As might be expected, these moguls — mostly corporate lawyers and corporate executives (Aetna, Metropolitan Life, Loews Corp., Morrison Knudsen Corp.) recommended 50 percent increases in the salaries of members of Congress federal judges and high executive branch officials.

Their suggested salary of $135, 000 for Senators and Representatives, not to mention very generous existing pension, health insurance, life insurance arid other numerous benefits and perks, must be cleared by President Reagan in his January 9, 1989 budget proposals to Congress.

Will Mr. Reagan’s last official act. add to the ocean of red ink in his government and further add to the public’s disrespect for their governors or, it may be hoped, will he say that rulers must rule by example and hold the salary level at a mere $89,500 a year plus benefits?

The prospect of Mr. Ragan leaving office head high on this issue is not probable. In early 1987, he told Congress that while he was proposing a

12,100 annual increase for them (plus a $2000 plus cost of living hike), would recommend more dollars for them in 1989.

The salary commission, chaired h corporate lawyer, Lloyd Cutler, softened its huge salary increases proposal by urging an end to the honoraria that. top officials receive from corporate and other special interest groups for speaking or attending their functions.

Such sensitivity apparently did not extend to the panel members’ own conflict of interest. Eight out of nine of the members have cases before federal judges and bills they are backing or opposing before Senators and Representatives from whom they want favorable decisions. And here they are leaders, the charge to increase the salaries of these officials. Such gentlemen, and they are all men) have no business being on the Commission in the first place.

Who should be on the Commission? How about a blue collar worker, teacher, a farmer, a clerical worker and one or two Americans known for their local civic activism. This Commission is the most. rigged panel in the twenty year history of such Commissions whose purpose is to take the heat. off Congress.

In 1985, Congress decided to take the heat off itself in a big way by passing late one night, without notice, an amendment put forth by Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). The Stevens ploy says that if the House and Senate avoid voting for thirty days after the President sends the salary increases to Capitol Hill, it becomes law. In the annals of lawmakers ducking responsibility, this maneuver is worthy of a Congressional Medal of Dishonor.

Congressional salaries have more than kept up with inflation since 1963 or 1976 or 1980. Members make more than what 98.5 percent of working Americans earn. The salary of these legislators is five times that of the average wage and their benefits are twenty times that of the average benefits package. That. is not counting a $3000 a year housing allowance and a list of perks that could fill a small booklet if just briefly described.

The Reagan Commission’s salary proposals would apply only to about 2700 top officials, but almost immediately the next level of bureaucrats in the thousands will receive salary increase and an even larger number below them won’t be far behind. Also, of course, the generous pensions will become more generous. And the red ink will flow larger.

In the meantime, these top officials are presiding over record-breaking deficits, observing many scandals which they are not passing reforms against (Reagan vetoed two major such bills since the election) and are cutting back on some critical programs. Also, real wages in America are below those of I 973, once adjusted for inflation.

Mr. Cutler declared that higher salaries were needed to attract and keep good candidates for public office. Would that there were any historical evidence for this proposition? By that standard the state legislators in Albany ought. to be far superior in competence, dedication and honesty than those in Connecticut or New Hampshire whose pay is much, much less.

These are long lines of worthy people who would like to serve in Congress or as federal judges or in the incoming Bush Administration. But choices for top federal jobs are made on political grounds and ideological compatibilities.

Will the people rise to stop this brazen salary grab? Early indications are that Congress will receive the biggest public backlash in many a year. Already radio talk shows are discussing the issues with animated listeners.

To join the drive, send a business-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope to “Stop the Salary Grab”, Box 19404, Washington, DC 70036 and receive a free action kit.