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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Pay Grab III — The House Strike

In a fit of cowering frenzy, the bipartisan cabal of Speaker Jim Wright and Republican leader, Bob Michel, have shut down the House of Representatives until February 8th when they expect to get their Pay Raise of 51%.

Forcing the House of Representatives to go on strike and lock out Representatives from raising this or any other issue on the Floor has added tyranny to greed. There is no example in American history of such a brazen lockout.

For almost two hundred years, the Congress held hearings on their salary increases and had a roll call vote on the Floor. Under Wright and Michel there are no hearings, no vote and for added insurance, no one can even challenge them on the floor.

This last move was in retaliation for a conventional one-minute speech by Cong. Arthur Ravenel (R-SC) denouncing the pay grab and its dictatorial procedure. This occurred on Tuesday, January 24th. Several new Congressmen came up to RaveneI to congratulate him and indicate they too were going to use the one-minute speech right to say the same thing. When Wright’s office heard about this, they moved to place the House in prolonged pro-forma session — a polite word for closing down until the pre-arranged 30 days runs out from January 9th when Ronald Reagan sent the Salary Grab proposal to the Congress.

Over at the Senate, proper procedures are being followed. Senator Glenn’s Governmental Affairs Committee is holding hearings and the Senate will have a roll call vote, up or down, on the Reagan Pay Raise. But under a special Pay Raise law, hatched by Senator Ted Stevens in 1985, both Houses of Congress have to vote down the raise or else it goes into effect. The Senate will vote it down; so the focus shifts to the House.

The Leadership’s pressure on dissenters in the House is becoming so intense that the sanctions of denying requested seats on Committees are being invoked. Rep. Robert C. Smith (R-NH) claims he was denied a seat on the House Armed Services Committee because of his outspoken opposition to the Pay Raise. His belief that members of Congress ought to make due on their present salary of $89,500, plus generous benefits, is deemed too seditious within that narrow Club known as the House of Representatives.

Liberal lawmakers, who often challenge the giants of industry glide around the Capitol meekly declining to say anything that would be critical of their leaders, who have denied them both the right to speak and vote on the House floor.

Publicly, a large majority of the Representatives say they oppose the raise. Privately, they are lusting for it. Not satisfied with a 48% increase in their salary since 1981, they want to go to $135,000 a year plus perks and pension plans and insurance.

Plans are afoot; however, in both the Senate and the House, to upset this organized stew of greed and tyranny that Wright and Michel have brewed. Senators Larry Pressler (R-SD), Paul Simon (D-IL) and others have introduced a bill to repeal any Pay Raise that slips through the 30 day inaction period. And Senator Gordon Humphrey (R-NH) has introduced a Senate Resolution repealing the Pay Raise for the Senators. The theory here is that the Senators, having been denied their raise, will put tremendous heat on the House to do the same.

The weekend before the midnight deadline of February 7, the House Democrats will take the train from Washington to a luxurious retreat in Virginia for a three day weekend. Their lavish food, drink and recreation will be picked up by corporate sponsors who, not surprisingly, have bills

before Congress that they support or oppose. There on the spacious green lawns and golf links, the lawmakers can ponder their new American dream — just do nothing for 30 days, close down the House and not only will you still get your salary check but also a 51% raise.

Can Americans stand by and let them get away with this holdup?