05/25/2011 10:54 am ET Updated Jul 25, 2011

Reid Rips Vitter For Holding Interior Secretary's Pay Hostage To Drilling Permits

WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blasted Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) on Wednesday for blocking a nearly $20,000 pay raise to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar until the Secretary agrees to speed up offshore drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I have worked with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on this issue for weeks and it is wrong for Sen. Vitter to try to get something in return for moving forward on a matter that the Senate has considered routine for more than a century," Reid said in a statement.

"Ken Salazar is extremely well-qualified, hard-working cabinet secretary, and deserves better than to be strong-armed while trying to do an important job for the American people."

The question remains as to whether Vitter may have violated federal law by offering something of value to influence a public official.

In a Monday letter to Salazar, who is a former Senate colleague, Vitter wrote, "I will end my efforts to block your salary increase" of $19,600 only when the rate of permits for deepwater drilling is increased to six per month.

"It's just my way of keeping the 'boot on the neck' of Interior until they get job the [sic] done," Vitter said in an accompanying statement. "Surely the secretary can appreciate that approach." He was referring to Salazar's comment last year about keeping a "boot on the neck" of BP as it mounted its clean-up effort of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.