The nation’s largest federal-employee union plans to rally on Capitol Hill Tuesday, with the group expecting more than 1,500 supporters to urge Congress to shield government programs and services from spending cuts.
The American Federation of Government Employees has scheduled the gathering for noon near the Capitol building. Guest speakers include Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
Members of the union will march to site from a nearby hotel half an hour earlier.
The rally is part of AFGE’s 2013 legislative conference, which takes place from Sunday through Wednesday in D.C. The union has encouraged its members to lobby their local representatives and senators to cancel the deep automatic spending cuts known as sequestration that will take place if Congress fails to come up with $85 billion in savings by March 1.
Federal employees have been in limbo for months due to Congress’s budget battles dealing with the debt limit, the sequester and a potential government shutdown.
The White House warned on Friday that hundreds of thousands of furloughs could be necessary if the automatic cuts kicks in beginning on March 1.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers appear increasingly willing to accept sequestration — at least in the short-term — in order to focus on a comprehensive budget and other issues such as immigration and gun control.
Last week, President Obama called on Congress to pass a package of small spending cuts and tax changes to delay the start of the automatic reductions. Congress and the president already pushed the deadline once with the Jan. 1 deal to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
Two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), have proposed legislation that would replace the sequester with a 10 percent trimming of the federal workforce, achieved by limiting agencies to one hire for every three employees that leave.
National Treasury Employees Union president Colleen M. Kelley criticized that plan in a statement on Wednesday. “Everyone agrees that sequestration is terrible policy,” she said. “Plans to implement it on March 1 should be abandoned, but doing so with a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce is foolhardy and would result in short staffing that could last for a decade.”
On Monday, University of Baltimore Law School professor Charles Tiefer, who specializes in government contracting, plans to appear at an AFGE to unveil a plan supposedly capable of achieving most of the $85 billion in government savings through reduced spending on service contracts.
Labor groups claim federal workers have already sacrificed $103 billion toward deficit reduction in the form of pay freezes and reduced retirement benefits for future hires.
“Numerous politicians have wrongfully attacked the EPA and government employees under the guise of fiscal responsibility and reducing the federal deficit,” said John J. O’Grady, treasurer of the AFGE’s council of local EPA chapters. “Even this administration has punished the federal employees by freezing their salaries for almost three years.”
In January, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to freeze federal-worker pay once again, but the measure has gone nowhere in the Senate.
President Obama is expected to ask for a 1 percent pay increase for federal employees in his 2014 budget proposal.
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