A case in point is the federal retirement program. The White House budget plan proposed to increase the required contributions from all employees by 1.2 percent of salary, phased in over three years. House Republicans upped the ante by proposing a 1.5 percent increase as part of a bill extending unemployment benefits.
The final version of that law left current employees untouched but required a contribution increase of 2.3 percentage points from those hired into government starting next year, unless they have at least five years of prior federal service.
But higher contributions by current employees have remained under active consideration, with the House later passing a deficit-cutting bill calling for a 5-percentage-point increase over three years. That plan stalled in the Senate, as had an earlier House Republican budget seeking to reduce the workforce by 10 percent over four years through a partial hiring freeze.
“The Republican to-some-degree hostility toward government in general is reflected in their treatment of federal employees, unfortunately,” said House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.
“The bright spot is, it’s not as bad as it could have been,” said Hoyer. “The Senate was unprepared to do some of the things that the Republicans wanted to do vis-à-vis federal employees.”
After Congress returns from its recess in September, one immediate task will be to provide funding for agencies for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 or face the risk of a partial government shutdown, since no regular spending bills have been enacted. Before the recess, leaders announced a tentative deal to generally extend current funding through March.
Also to be decided is whether the two-year freeze on federal salary rates will continue. The House has voted several times to extend it by a year or more and has been crafting spending bills reflecting that assumption. The White House has objected to each in turn, advocating for the 0.5 percent increase it proposed in its budget plan in February.
Hoyer, who represents a district with many federal employees, said he expects the freeze to continue for another year, even though federal workers are supposed to get a raise under a law calling for salary bumps when private-sector pay rises. “I think there is a general public view, which is absolutely not accurate, that a federal employee is paid better than their private-sector counterpart and their benefits are better,” he said.
A long-running controversy over comparing federal and non-federal pay, with different methods and sets of data producing widely varying results, has continued. A recent Government Accountability Office report that could have served as a tiebreaker refused to endorse any of the approaches.