WASHINGTON -- In a surprise move, the Senate voted itself a raise in pay last night to $125,100 a year, the same level as that enjoyed by members of the House.
The $23,200 yearly increase, however, will mean that much-criticized speaking fees from special interest groups will be banned. As part of the package, the Senate also imposed a ceiling of $18,675 a year on outside earned income.
Anticipating an adverse public reaction, leaders of both parties joined in sponsoring the pay increase, which passed on a 53-45 vote. Defenders said that it was a move for good government because it simultaneously bars senators from taking about $23,000 in speaking fees each year.
Opposing the raise, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said: "We should raise salaries only after we show we can manage the government effectively . . . after we balance the federal budget."
Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, D-La., echoed a common fear among his colleagues: "I know senators are scared to death of 30-second television spots. . . . I know I am." But he pleaded for passage anyway.
Sponsors of the raise contended that it was wrong for the XTC Senate to have a lower salary than the federal judiciary, the top level of executive branch officials and the House, which began enjoying a raise to $125,100 on Jan. 1.
"It is not a pay raise," insisted Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. "It is a pay equalization concept. Those who vote against this measure, I suggest they get a hotel room downtown. I think most [senators'] wives would vote for this amendment."
The ban on speaking fees reflects growing public disapproval of senators' acceptance of as much as $2,000 for speeches to special interest groups. While the Senate has voted previously to ban such fees, it has never enacted the ban into law.
The pay package is an amendment to the $2.3 billion appropriations bill for the legislative branch and related institutions.
Under present law, senators may accept a total of $23,000 in speaking fees, and there is no limit on outside earned income.
Maryland's two Democratic senators split over the pay raise. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski voted to reject it while Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes voted for it.