Over the objections of the White House and unions, the House plans to vote by the end of this week on a bill to deny federal employees a 0.5 percent pay raise scheduled to take effect in April.
“This modest pay increase will help ensure that the Government remains competitive in attracting and retaining the Nationˈs best and brightest individuals for public service,” the White House said in a statement released late Wednesday after the House Rules Committee cleared the bill for a floor vote.
“Federal civilian employees are central to the Federal Governmentˈs success in serving the American people. They assure the safety of this countryˈs food and airways, defend the homeland, provide health care to the Nationˈs veterans, search for cures to devastating diseases, and provide vital support to our troops at home and abroad,” the statement added.
The Obama administration did not explicitly threaten to veto the bill, should it pass Congress. It is uncertain whether the Senate will take up the measure; the House voted several times previously to deny the raise, but the Senate never considered those bills, nor did it take any other position on a 2013 federal employee raise.
However, a House vote in favor of extending the freeze on pay rates would amount to that chamber staking a position on the issue, should it arise in the context of other bills, such as one needed to extend agency spending authority beyond late March.
A coalition of 31 unions and professional associations representing federal employees earlier has asked the House to reject the bill, and several of those groups have sent individual letters, as well, arguing that employees already have contributed substantially to deficit reduction and that they are being unfairly singled out.
Federal employee salaries were not increased in 2011 or 2012, and the freeze was extended another three months by the temporary funding bill that will expire March 27. Under a presidential order, the 0.5 percent increase—which the Obama administration had originally proposed to become effective last month—will be paid effective April 7, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
“The President’s announcement, which will cost taxpayers more than $10 billion over ten years, comes at a time when automatic spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect on March 1, 2013,” says a summary of the bill by the House Republican Conference. “It is also worth noting that the President is expected to include a 1.0 percent pay adjustment in his FY 2014 budget and union leaders have called on the President to increase that percentage.”
In moving the bill to the House floor, the Rules Committee rejected an amendment proposed by Democrats to replace the planned sequestration with a package of cuts in agriculture direct payments and oil company subsidies and increased taxes on those making more than $1 million a year.
Also defeated was a proposal to extend the salary freeze only for members of Congress; pay for Congress has already been frozen through the year by a provision of the “fiscal cliff” law.
Despite the salary freeze, many employees have continued to receive individual raises when they are promoted, as a reward for good performance, or on successfully completing waiting periods, for those in pay systems with a grade-and-step structure.