Budgets for staff go up in Congress


August 28, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Payroll records filed with the Clerk of the House MARYLAND'S TOP 10 Payroll records filed with the Clerk of the HouseWashington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- When it comes to paying their staffs, Marylanders in Congress haven't run into tough times.

Private employers may be cutting payrolls as they cope with a sluggish economy. But for Marylanders in the House of Representatives, the direction is up.

And while Republicans may be the first to demand budget cuts, they are leading the spending parade. The four Maryland Republicans outspent their Democratic counterparts by a small margin in the first half of 1993. The top three payrolls belonged to Republican Reps. Constance A. Morella, Helen Delich Bentley and Wayne T. Gilchrest.

Under rules that the House sets for itself, members of Congress can hire up to 22 people to staff their offices in Washington and back home in their districts and can have an annual payroll of Personal staff aides can be paid up to $108,234 a year, while committee staff members are allowed to earn more.

Last year, payrolls for the staffs of six Maryland House members who were re-elected in November, -- Mrs. Bentley, Mrs. Morella, Mr. Gilchrest, Kweisi Mfume, Benjamin L. Cardin and Steny H. Hoyer -- averaged an 11.8 percent increase from 1991 levels, with the increases varying from 6.1 percent for Mrs. Bentley to 20.9 percent for Mr. Gilchrest.

Some members of the House, generally those with choice committee assignments or considerable seniority, can dip into other accounts to enlarge their staff empire.

Democrats Steny Hoyer and Kweisi Mfume are able to hire more staffers than other Marylanders because of their committee positions. But Mrs. Bentley and Mrs. Morella to a lesser extent also enjoy the luxury of committee-paid staffers.

The budget for the operation of Congress is frequently a matter of partisan bickering and grandstanding. Representatives often talk about cutting the federal budget but are reluctant to cut their own.

Mrs. Bentley, for instance, voted for a GOP-sponsored measure on June 10 to slash House operating funds by 5 percent -- a move also supported by Maryland Republican Representatives Morella and Roscoe G. Bartlett. The measure lost, and the Democratic-controlled House settled for a 1 percent cut.

But Mrs. Bentley has no intention of voluntarily cutting her payroll by 5 percent.

"When they cut, we'll cut, but I'm not pushing it," she said, adding, "I want to be able to keep good people."

The National Taxpayers' Union sees the issues differently. "If Congress is to have any credibility on the deficit reduction issue, some of the first spending cuts will have to begin with Congress itself," said the organization's Pete Sepp. "And staffing is one of Congress' greatest expenses."

Two Marylanders, Mrs. Morella and Democrat Mr. Mfume, did trim payrolls slightly in the first half of 1993, compared with the first six months of 1992. But this followed double-digit growth last year.

Many congressional staffers earn very modest salaries. Many, no matter their salary, work long hours, particularly when Congress is in session. All are subject to dismissal at the whim of their boss and don't enjoy many protections of labor law that most American workers have. Nevertheless, some are paid quite well.

Out of some 13,600 House staffers, 316 are paid more than $100,000 a year, according to Roll Call, a semi-weekly newspaper that covers Capitol Hill.

Sometimes, the highest-paid aide to a member of Congress is on a committee payroll, even though that staffer works out of the member's office and devotes full time to the member.

Mr. Hoyer can hire more staffers than any other member of the Maryland delegation because he is chairman of an appropriations subcommittee, chairman of the policy-making Democratic Caucus and co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Helsinki Commission.

When his press secretary was seriously injured in an automobile accident last spring, Mr. Hoyer called on the chief lobbyist for the Helsinki Commission, Jesse Jacobs, to fill in as his press secretary. Mr. Jacobs, a former Hoyer staffer who remains on the commission payroll at $49,000, says he has been working both jobs for three months but plans to return full time to the commission.

A Hoyer staffer who resigned July 30, Samuel E. Wynkoop, was the highest-paid aide working for a Marylander, making $117,618.

Though Mr. Wynkoop worked out of Mr. Hoyer's congressional office and was listed in many Capitol Hill directories as his chief of staff, the Democratic Caucus paid his salary. He was the only aide to a Marylander who made more than $100,000.

Mr. Mfume, the Baltimore City Democrat, chairs a small business subcommittee and is able to hire three aides who, he emphasizes, serve all eight Democrats on the subcommittee. He also is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has a two-person staff. He pays part of the salary of one of those staffers from his personal staff budget.

Mrs. Morella, as senior Republican on a Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee, has a $39,000-a-year aide on the committee payroll.

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