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Senate Votes 92-6 to Skip Pay Raises

Even if the House agrees to reject the increase, the savings would be largely symbolic as lawmakers struggle to trim enough for hurricane spending.

October 19, 2005|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Senators voted Tuesday to forgo a $3,100 pay raise next year in a symbolic show of their resolve to spread the pain of financing some of the cost of reconstructing the hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast.

The measure passed by a lopsided vote -- 92 to 6 -- but it was likely a mere warm-up for the wrangling to come over spending and tax cuts.

The raise still will go into effect unless the House votes to do without it. The savings would be about $2 million in a federal budget that, in the last fiscal year, totaled about $2.5 trillion.

While senators may have found it easy to put off a projected 1.9% cost-of-living raise on their annual $162,100 salaries, lawmakers were finding it harder to agree on other cuts. A Senate panel, for example, dropped plans Tuesday to cut food stamps in the face of opposition from members of both parties.

House GOP leaders stepped up efforts to pass spending cuts of as much as $50 billion over the next five years through measures such as slowing the growth of Medicaid.

But Senate Republicans were struggling to find $35 billion in proposed cuts. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) pronounced the $50-billion House GOP target a "tough sell" in the Senate.

A House GOP proposal to impose an across-the-board cut in annual spending also was causing tension among Republicans.

One GOP strategist said such a cut would put moderates "in a hot spot" in the 2006 campaign -- especially if, as expected, the Senate did not follow suit. The strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing congressional affairs, said across-the-board cuts would disproportionally hurt the poor.

Democrats planned to intensify attacks on Republicans for pursuing $70 billion in proposed tax cuts while wanting to cut spending on domestic programs.

President Bush is pushing for spending cuts to keep the hurricane costs from worsening the federal budget deficit, which was $317 billion for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Congress has spent about $60 billion in hurricane-related aid, and is expected to consider a request for more money from the White House as soon as next week.

The measure to put off the raise was attached to the annual spending bill for the Treasury Department and other agencies. California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats, supported it.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), one of the measure's sponsors, said: "When we're asking for spending cuts across the federal government to help offset the cost of Hurricane Katrina, it's important for the Senate to lead by example, even if the impact is mostly symbolic."

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) supported the measure but said this was the Senate's "annual hypocrisy day." He said lawmakers would "go home and say: 'Look what've done. I stopped us from having a pay raise. Aren't I wonderful?' "

But Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, said it was "an important gesture for lawmakers to personally sacrifice in this era of budget shortfalls and growing reconstruction costs."

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Times staff writer Janet Hook contributed to this report.

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