House votes to block federal pay raise

February 15, 2013

Federal employees would not receive the 0.5 percent pay raise scheduled to be paid in April, under a bill passed by the House Friday that faces iffy prospects in the Senate.

The final vote was 261-154, with Republicans voting 218-10 in favor, and Democrats voting 144-43 against. Under a presidential order, the pay increase will take effect after a temporary government spending measure expires in late March unless blocked in the meantime.

The House voted several times last year to deny a 2013 federal employee raise but the Senate did not consider those bills.

Sponsors of the measure argued that the scheduled raise would add $11 billion to spending over 10 years, while automatic spending cuts are threatened in many federal programs. Those cuts could force agencies to put many employees on unpaid furloughs of up to one day a week, also starting in April, through September.

The White House on Wednesday issued a statement opposing the bill, saying a raise would help the government recruit and retain employees who provide vital services to the public. Unions and professional associations representing federal employees also opposed the bill, pointing out that no annual raise was paid in 2011, 2012 or January of this year, and that employees first hired starting this year have to pay more toward their retirement benefits.

“Federal workers – the same federal workers who care for our veterans and secure our borders and regulate our drug supply – have already contributed more than a $100 billion toward reducing the deficit,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said in a House floor statement. “No other group of Americans has contributed more to reducing the deficit.”

Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in a statement that turnover has remained about the same, and that “federal employees are on average compensated 16 percent more than their private sector counterparts.”

Issa added in an e-mail that the president’s executive order on federal pay is a “cynical ploy to curry political favor with one of the largest unionized workforces in America.”

That figure comes from a 2012 Congressional Budget Office report that took into account both pay and benefits. The government’s most recent official comparison found that federal employees on average are underpaid by 35 percent compared with similar private-sector jobs.

Many employees have received individual raises during the overall freeze on salary rates for good performance, on promotion, or on successfully completing waiting periods for advancement in grade-and-step pay systems.

Pay for members of Congress was frozen for the year by the “fiscal cliff” law enacted in early January.

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Josh Hicks | February 15, 2013