Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Special Message to the Congress Recommending Salary Reforms for Top Officials in the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches

January 17, 1969

To the Congress of the United States:

The Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Federal Judiciary are the vital nerve centers of government. Whoever mans them is involved in activities so momentous and far-reaching that they touch the lives of all our citizens--and indeed of people the world over. Our national interest demands--and our national survival requires--that America summon its best men and women to assume the power of decision and the responsibility of leadership for government in action.

Central to this concern is the matter of compensation at the top echelons of Government. Today, the salaries we pay our top officials are clearly inadequate.


The record of the past has been one of inadequate and fragmentary adjustments in top-level compensation--always too little, often too late.

I believed in my Administration that the time had clearly come to re-examine the entire top Federal salary network. To this end, I asked the Congress to create a bipartisan commission to:

--Recommend any changes its study found necessary.

--Review top-level Federal salaries every four years. The Congress responded. In December 1967, I signed into law a measure which gave life to the Commission on Executive, Legislative and Judicial Salaries--the first such body in our Nation's history.

The Commission was composed of nine distinguished Americans:

Three were appointed by the President:

--Frederick R. Kappel, former Chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, who served as the Commission's Chairman.

--John J. Corson, Consultant and Corporate Director.

--George Meany, President, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Two were appointed by the President of the Senate:

--Stephen K. Bailey, Dean, Maxwell Graduate School, Syracuse University.

--Sidney J. Weinberg, Senior Partner, Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Two were appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives:

--Edward H. Foley, Attorney, Former Undersecretary of the Treasury.

--William Spoelhof, President, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Two were appointed by the Chief Justice of the United States:

--Arthur H. Dean, Attorney, Chairman, U.S.. Delegation, Nuclear Test Ban and Disarmament Conference.

--William T. Gossett, Attorney, President, American Bar Association. After a comprehensive study of top Federal salaries, the Commission concluded that:

--Present compensation levels are not commensurate with the importance of the positions held.

--These levels are not sufficient to support a standard of living that individuals qualified for such posts can fairly expect to enjoy and in many instances have long established.

--Action should be taken to modernize, without delay, the top pay structure of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches of government.


Any recommendations the President might make for salary reform must be included in his budget. In preparing my budget for Fiscal Year 1970, I carefully reviewed the full report of the Kappel Commission. Their proposals served as a valuable guide as I weighed the recommendations the law requires me to make--recommendations which will become effective 30 days after they are submitted unless the Congress disapproves them during that period.

I agree with the recommendations of the Kappel Commission Report. If I alone had the power to put its recommendations into effect, I would do so. But in our proposal to the Congress and in the law passed by the Congress creating the Commission, final action on the report was to be a joint enterprise between the executive and legislative branches. I have therefore found it necessary to modify some of the Kappel Commission recommendations--particularly with respect to congressional salaries, and also with respect to the pay of certain executive positions.

I do recommend that the Kappel Commission proposals be put into effect for the top officials of the federal, judicial and executive branches. For them, I recommend the following pay scales:

Chief Justice: $62,500

Associate Justices of the Supreme Court: $60,000

Cabinet Heads: $60,000.

Of all the salaries, Congressional compensation posed the most difficult problem of all and was the hinge on which my recommendations turned. As the Commission pointed out: "Members' salaries should be adjusted to compensate for the substantial and unique responsibilities they bear, to meet the cost peculiar to elective rather than appointive office, and to minimize the need to rely on other means of augmenting income."

The Commission then recommended that Congressional pay should be set at $50,000.

Congressional salaries have been raised in slow and piecemeal fashion, far outpaced by pay increases in the rest of the economy. Over the past three decades, Congressmen have received only three pay increases--an average of one pay raise every ten years--to the current level of $30,000, a salary which by today's standards is woefully inadequate.

I do not think that the American people want to see their elected representatives-who must bear the awesome burdens these critical times demand--serve their Nation at the price of financial hardship. I therefore believe that the $50,000 Congressional salary recommended by the Kappel Commission can be justified.

A proper concern for history and tradition, however, suggests that the President should consult the leaders of Congress before he makes any recommendations concerning Congressional salaries. I have done that.

These discussions and consultations revealed that Congress would be reluctant to approve a $50,000 salary. When it comes to a pay increase, Congress puts its own members last in line. Instead, an increase to $42,500 was considered 'preferable and more likely to receive the necessary support. I respect the desires of the leaders of the Congress. I therefore now recommend a $42,500 salary for the Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The Congressional salary I am recommending today represents an 89% increase over the level of compensation in 1955. I must point out, however, that during this same period salaries of the highest Civil Service career grade increased by well over 100 per cent.

Civil Service salaries, moreover, will be adjusted periodically to keep them comparable to those in industry--while Congressional salaries must, under current law, remain unchanged for the next four years.

Projections indicate the following salary increases between 1955 and 1972:

--88.9% Congressional salaries

--90% Postal workers

--94% Average Federal worker

--94% Factory workers

--101% Government Wage Board employees

--109% GS-15 Career Civil Servant

--135% GS-18 Career Civil Servant.

Thus, even with the recommended pay increase for our lawmakers, the increase in Congressional salaries will lag behind those of other Government workers and employees in the private sector.

Since the weight of custom and a sense of fairness require that we maintain and preserve proper pay relationships at the upper echelons of Government, the proposed $42,500 Congressional salary requires that I make certain adjustments in the Kappel Commission's proposals for other top level salaries. Accordingly, I recommend the following pay scales:

Level II (Heads of Major Agencies): $42,500

Level III (Including Under Secretaries): $40,000

Level IV (Including Ass't. Secretaries): $38,000

Level V (Including Heads of Boards): $36,000.

My recommendations for the other top level positions covered by the Kappel Commission are set forth in my budget in accordance with the requirements of Public Law 90-206.

The salaries of the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, the Majority and Minority Leaders of the House and Senate and the President Pro Tem of the Senate were not, as such, covered by the Kappel Commission's charter. For this reason, I am submitting separate pay legislation embodying my recommendations, as follows:

Vice President: $62,500

Speaker of the House: $62,500

Majority and Minority Leaders of the House and Senate and President Pro Tern of the Senate: $55,000.


The burdens imposed by Congressional service are unique. They often require members to bear extra expenses in connection with their official responsibilities.

Most lawmakers, for example, must maintain two homes for themselves and their families--one among the people in the district or state they serve; the other in or near the Nation's capital.

Recognizing these facts, the Federal tax laws have allowed deductions of up to $3,000 a year for living expenses at the seat of our national government.

That maximum deduction has remained fixed for 15 years now--while sessions of the Congress have grown longer and longer under the pressure of increasing workloads and crowded legislative calendars.

I believe we should increase the maximum deduction so that Members of Congress will not be required to use any new pay increase to defray some of the essential living expenses incurred in the pursuit of their official duties.

Accordingly, I recommend that the maximum Federal tax deduction for Congressional living expenses be raised by $2,500--from $3,000 to $5,500 for each member of Congress.


The proposals I make today are long overdue and urgently needed salary reforms at the upper levels of our government. But they are more than pay recommendations, for they cut to the heart of what modern government is all about--excellence in the pursuit of the public's business.

This moment of decision provides a unique occasion to strengthen the sinews of American government. We can do this by offering to our best and ablest citizens fair compensation for the job they must do in guiding America forward in the years ahead.

Just as these public servants--in the Congress, in the Cabinet and in the Judiciary-- have a responsibility to the Nation, so the Nation has a responsibility to them.

The total amounts involved in my pay proposals are relatively small. But they will be wise investments in our future.

I urge the Congress to grasp the opportunity presented to it and to respond favorably to the recommendations I am submitting today.


The White House

January 17, 1969

Lyndon B. Johnson, Special Message to the Congress Recommending Salary Reforms for Top Officials in the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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