Senate gets its turn on federal pay

After weeks of the House taking the lead on the issue of federal pay, attention turns today to the Senate, where a panel is set to consider that chamber’s version of the annual spending bill that traditionally is the vehicle for deciding on raises for the upcoming year.

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A Senate Appropriations subcommittee is scheduled to produce a counterpart to the financial services and general government spending bill crafted last week on the House side. The House bill envisions no increase in federal salary rates in 2013 for what would be the third straight year, effectively denying the White House’s proposal for a 0.5 percent raise in January.

Earlier this year, the Senate voted against an amendment to a highway bill that called for extending the freeze for another year. However, the House has voted for continuing the freeze as a freestanding bill and also as part of a budget outline. In addition, several spending bills covering individual departments and agencies that have passed the House contain no additional funds to pay for a raise.

In statements on those bills, the White House has continued to urge Congress to grant a raise in January. However, the general government spending bill typically is the key measure for specifying a raise. In some years, agencies have not been given extra money to cover a pay boost ordered by that bill, but rather have been told to absorb the cost from their overhead accounts.

While pay rates were frozen in 2011 and 2012 at 2010 levels, individual federal employees have remained eligible for raises on promotion, as a performance reward, or as they advance within their pay grades – so-called within-grade raises, or step increases, that are largely based on longevity.

Both the House and Senate subcommittee bills would have to pass through full committee votes and floor voting, where changes would be possible. Ultimately, any difference between the two versions would have to be resolved later in the budget process.

When federal pay rates are frozen, so are salaries for members of Congress.

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