This post has been updated.
The House of Representatives is poised to vote as early as tonight on a bill addressing a series of tax increases and spending cuts taking affect this week. But first lawmakers voted on a plan to freeze the salaries of lawmakers and federal employees.
Despite Democratic objections, the bill passed 287 to 129, with 55 Democrats voting with Republicans to approve the measure.
House Democrats charged that the vote to freeze salaries was intended to provide political cover for conservative Republicans planning to vote against the fiscal cliff bill passed early Tuesday by the Senate.
The fiscal cliff deal, passed with 89 votes in the Senate, includes language that would block a 0.5 percent cost of living pay increase for lawmakers, reversing parts of an executive order Obama issued last week – because Congress had yet to set the federal government’s pay scale for 2013.
Voting against the fiscal cliff plan might leave some House Republicans open to charges by future political opponents that they voted to give themselves a raise, or didn’t vote to block a congressional pay raise, Democrats charged.
The GOP-backed bill introduced late Monday would freeze the salaries of lawmakers and the nation’s 2 million federal employees for the remainder of fiscal 2013. Currently, federal worker salaries are frozen through the end of a short-term spending agreement that expires in March. As part of efforts to curtail the deficit, federal employees have not seen a cost of living increase in their paychecks in more than three years.
Holding the pay vote before the fiscal cliff bill is voted on, “is one of the most cynical things I’ve seen,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), whose district is home to hundreds of thousands of federal employees. “It’s being held purely to provide protection for House Republicans who want to vote against the fiscal cliff deal.”
The pay bill is cosponsored by Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Issa denied Democratic claims that his bill provides cover for GOP colleagues, noting that Obama could have opted to continue the pay freeze already in effect.
"We had to do this," Issa said, adding later that Obama "had a two-year pay freeze already underway, he could have just continued it."
In a statement, Issa argued that Obama's "across the board pay increase for white collar workers is not necessary to retain talented employees and just wastes taxpayer money."
"Federal employees have continued to receive promotions and within-grade pay increases over the past few years of the supposed ‘pay freeze,’ and voluntary separations from the federal government are near all-time lows," he said.
Since taking control of the House last year, Republicans have cited federal compensation packages as a prime example of government waste, charging that federal employees have enjoyed modest pay bumps during the freeze as they are promoted through the ranks.
But dozens of Democrats usually vote for the GOP-back pay measures, making it an issue that regularly splits the caucus between labor-backed lawmakers and Washington-area Democrats who represent communities where thousands of federal employees live and work.