Congress hands Salazar a pay cut

And you thought Coloradans just used emoluments to deal with the harsh, dry weather. In an attempt to keep things constitutional, Congress on Wednesday cut the pay — and emoluments, or compensation and perquisites — for the secretary of the interior back to the 2005 level so presumptive nominee Sen. Ken Salazar won’t run afoul of an obscure constitutional provision. Article I, Section 6 of the U.S. Constitution forbids a member of Congress from taking a federal job after having voted to increase the job’s pay, so Congress routinely bumps back the pay.

Here’s the clause:

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.

In Salazar’s case, a resolution cuts his Cabinet compensation back from $191,300 to $180,100, the salary in effect before he took office. Congress passed a similar maneuver for the next secretary of state, so Sen. Hillary Clinton won’t receive the current Cabinet pay but has to settle for the $186,600 salary in effect when she began her current term.

It’s known as the “Saxbe fix,” after Nixon-era Attorney General William Saxbe, who had previously represented Ohio in the Senate. When Congress cut Saxbe’s pay, some cried foul over the constitutional sidestep, including Sen. Robert Byrd and New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, both of whom are cited in this DailyKos diary. Because President Nixon appointed Saxbe after the Saturday Night Massacre, Lewis raised questions about the fix that haven’t been asked lately:

The Saxbe question is especially interesting in one respect: for what it says about attitudes toward law and the Constitution. President Nixon has made a great point of saying that he believes in “strict construction” of the Constitution. But here he is trying to read the document in a way that avoids its plain meaning.

No one has challenged the Saxbe fix, which also got a workout during the Clinton administration when Sen. Lloyd Bentsen had to take a massive pay cut from his fellow Cabinet members to serve as treasury secretary, but some constitutional particularists wonder whether it’s strictly legal.

Square State’s Aaron Silverstein takes a pragmatic view: “Who knows? Maybe it’s legal,” he observes and then goes on to ponder: “It must be strange to hope your colleagues will quickly grant you a pay cut, and that nobody outside the room will try to fight it.”

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