ITWASSOOTED: Congress passes pay raise, little else

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Congress passes pay raise, little else

By David Espo
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Congress helped itself to a $3,100 pay raise Friday, then postponed work on bills to curb spending on social programs and cut taxes in favor of a two-week vacation.
In the final hours of a tumultuous week in the Capitol, Democrats erupted in fury when House Republican leaders maneuvered toward a politically-charged vote, and swift rejection, of one war critic's call to withdraw troops from Iraq.
"You guys are pathetic - pathetic," Massachusetts Rep. Martin Meehan yelled across a noisy hall at Republicans.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Republicans want to "make sure that we support our troops that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. ... A lot of people say: Look, this is a tough time, we just ought to pull out and leave. We pull out and leave, we strand an effort to make sure that we can tamp down terrorism."
GOP aides conceded the maneuver was designed to put Democrats in a political squeeze - voting for withdrawal and exposing themselves to attacks from the White House, or voting against it and risking the anger of voters that polls show want an end to the conflict.
Democrats angrily attacked the GOP move. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., called the measure "a piece of garbage" and an attack on Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated veteran and respected voice on military matters.
On another major issue, a renewal of the Patriot Act remained in limbo as an unlikely coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans sought curbs on the powers given law enforcement in the troubled first days after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Both the House and Senate were in session after midnight Thursday, working on the tax- and deficit-cutting bills at the heart of the GOP agenda.
"What it does is start to turn down the escalating costs ... for our children and our grandchildren. One of the things that we cannot leave to that next generation is a huge deficit that they can't afford," Hastert said after enactment of a $50 billion deficit-reduction bill.
Democrats dissented, with one eye on the 2006 elections.
Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California said: "The Republicans are taking food out of the mouths of children to give tax cuts to America's wealthiest. This is not a statement of America's values."
"Democrats believe that together, America can do better," she said.
The cost-of-living increase for members of Congress, which will put pay for the rank and file at an estimated $165,200 a year, marked a brief truce in the pitched political battles that have flared in recent weeks on the war and domestic issues.
Lawmakers automatically receive a cost-of-living increase each year unless Congress votes to block it.
By tradition, critics have tried to block increases by attaching a provision to the legislation that provides funding for the Treasury Department. One such attempt succeeded in the Senate earlier in the year, but the provision was omitted from the compromise measure moved toward final approval.
The overall bill provided $140 billion for transportation, housing and other programs. It cleared the House on a vote of 392-31.
Senate passage was by voice vote, although final passage was delayed when an unexplained technical difficulty required a revote in the House.
Pay-raise harmony aside, Republicans spent the day celebrating a party-line vote in which the House cleared legislation to reduce deficits by $50 billion over five years. The vote was 217-215, with all the Democrats voting in opposition, along with 14 GOP rebels.
Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt of Missouri said Republicans would make their tax-cut bill the top item on the agenda when lawmakers return to the Capitol in December.
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