The Senate Ethics Committee today dismissed a complaint against Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) over his 2011 efforts to block a pay raise for Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in an attempt to force the department to issue more deep-water drilling permits for the Gulf of Mexico.
However, the panel still deemed Vitter’s action “inappropriate.”
“While the committee found there was no substantial credible evidence that you violated the law or Senate rules, it did conclude that it is inappropriate to condition support for a Secretary’s personal salary increase directly on his or her performance of a specific official act,” the committee said in a March 29 letter to Vitter.
Vitter welcomed the news and stood by his position.
“The bipartisan committee completely dismissed this complaint today,” Vitter said in a release.
“I’m glad that I killed Ken Salazar’s salary increase — he has completely failed us on energy policy,” Vitter continued. “And I’ll absolutely place a hold on any raise for him in the future.”
The complaint was filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, according to the panel.
Vitter successfully blocked legislation that would have raised Salazar’s salary by nearly $20,000, which would have put it on par with other cabinet secretaries. He said he would have allowed the legislation to be move in the Senate once Salazar began to issue six new deep-water exploratory permits per month in the Gulf of Mexico.
The showdown came after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, when the Obama administration placed a moratorium on offshore drilling, causing thousands of lost job and billions in lost revenue, according to Vitter’s office. After lifting the formal moratorium, Salazar refused to issue permits and today the rate of permits issued is only half of what it was before the oil spill.
At the time, Salazar characterized Vitter’s threat as coercive.
“It must be made perfectly clear that his attempt cannot and will not affect” the actions of the department, Salazar said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Vitter conveyed his threat in a letter to Salazar.
Salazar asked Reid and McConnell to “set aside any effort” to bring his salary into parity after he received a letter from Vitter.
A Reid spokesman at the time, said the Nevada Democrat had no plans to abandon the plan.
“Sen. Reid still thinks the bill should be passed,” a Reid spokesman said today.
Salazar, who resigned from the Senate to take the post, makes less than the $199,700 paid to other Cabinet secretaries because of the Constitution’s Ineligibility Clause, which seeks to prevent lawmakers from voting to raise the salary for a federal job and then moving into that job at the higher pay rate.
For decades, the White House has relied on a procedural tactic to appoint current Members of Congress to Cabinet-level positions by rolling back the salary to the amount that was set at the start of the lawmaker’s term. The Senate can later address the disparity in a vote when the former lawmaker’s term would have expired. Salazar’s Senate term would have been up in January 2012 had he remained in Congress.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.