Sen­a­tor holds up Salazar’s pay in­crease over drilling

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Thanks to a con­sti­tu­tional quirk, In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ken­neth L. Salazar makes less than most of his col­leagues in Pres­i­dent Obama’s Cabi­net, and a Repub­li­can sen­a­tor says he’ll keep it that way, block­ing a nearly $20,000 raise for the high-level ap­pointee un­til the ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­proves more deep-wa­ter oil drilling.

Mr. Salazar’s salary is set at $180,100, which is $19,600 less than most other Cabi­net sec­re­taries. The Con­sti­tu­tion pro­hibits leg­is­la­tors from tak­ing po­si­tions in the ex­ec­u­tive branch for which they voted to raise the salaries, and since Mr. Salazar ap­proved sec­re­taries’ pay lev­els when he was in the Se­nate, he would have been barred from tak­ing the In­te­rior job un­less the salary was re­duced to its ear­lier level.

His Se­nate term would have ex­pired in Jan­uary, which means he’s once again el­i­gi­ble for the higher pay rate.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, tried to get con­sent two weeks ago to pass the change in the Se­nate but was blocked by Sen. David Vit­ter, a Louisiana Repub­li­can who said he won’t yield un­til Mr. Salazar ap­proves more oil and gas ex­plo­ration in the Gulf of Mex­ico.

“Ev­ery day, In­te­rior’s poli­cies are cost­ing more Gulf en­ergy work­ers their jobs. But the In­te­rior sec­re­tary needs a raise? That’s ridicu­lous - it’s of­fen­sive,” Mr. Vit­ter said in a state­ment to The Wash­ing­ton Times. “I’ll do ev­ery­thing I can to block his raise un­til Gulf en­ergy work­ers are at least where they were in terms of work and job se­cu­rity pre-BP. I re­ally want to see new deep­wa­ter ex­ploratory per­mits be­ing is­sued at pre-BP lev­els over a three-month pe­riod.”

Ken­dra Barkoff, a spokesman for Mr. Salazar, said he did not re­quest the change. But she said equal­iz­ing pay is the right move.

“The sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior’s salary should be equal to that of the other Cabi­net mem­bers. It’s just that sim­ple,” she said.

Mr. Salazar was elected a sen­a­tor from Colorado in 2004, but in 2009, with two years left on his term, Mr. Obama tapped him for the top job at the In­te­rior Depart­ment.

Since then Mr. Salazar has reg­u­larly clashed with his for­mer Repub­li­can col­leagues in Congress over the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s land use and en­ergy ex­plo­ration poli­cies.

In the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mex­ico last year Mr. Salazar im­posed a deep­wa­ter drilling mora­to­rium, then lifted it but wrote tough new reg­u­la­tions. Lawmakers also ac­cused him of slow-walk­ing new drilling per­mits, though af­ter a fed­eral court or­der he be­gan to ap­prove some new drilling.

Ar­ti­cle I, Sec­tion 6, Clause 2 of the Con­sti­tu­tion pro­hibits mem­bers of Congress from be­ing “ap­pointed to any civil of­fice . . . which shall have been cre­ated, or the emol­u­ments whereof shall have been in­creased dur­ing such time” as they were elected. The goal was to pre­vent lawmakers from cre­at­ing cushy po­si­tions for them­selves.

To get around that ban, Congress de­cided it can just re­duce the salary for the po­si­tion back to what it was be­fore the of­fice­holder’s most re­cent elec­tion.

It has come to be known as the Saxbe fix af­ter Wil­liam Saxbe, who jumped from sen­a­tor to at­tor­ney gen­eral un­der Pres­i­dent Nixon. And it has hap­pened sev­eral times since, in­clud­ing most re­cently for Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Lloyd Bentsen un­der Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton.

Some legal schol­ars ar­gue that it is still un­con­sti­tu­tional, though their chal­lenges have fallen short in the courts.

Mr. Obama in 2009 nom­i­nated two other sitting lawmakers for Cabi­net po­si­tions: Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton and La­bor Sec­re­tary Hilda L. So­lis.

Mrs. Clin­ton’s Se­nate term would not have ended un­til the be­gin­ning of 2013, so she is not el­i­gi­ble to have her salary boosted yet. She is still serv­ing at a re­duced rate of pay.

Mrs. So­lis was a mem­ber of the House at the time she was nom­i­nated. But since she had just been re-elected to the House for a new term, and had not voted on a new Cabi­net salary in­crease, she was not af­fected.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A pay raise for In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ken­nth L. Salazar (above) is be­ing held up by Sen. David Vit­ter, Louisiana Repub­li­can, who is press­ing for more en­ergy ex­plo­ration in the Gulf of Mex­ico and says In­te­rior’s poli­cies are hurt­ing en­ergy work­ers.

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