Pay freeze bill comes up for a vote

House lawmakers voted Wednesday night to freeze their pay and the salaries of congressional staffers and civilian federal employees, scoring a symbolic victory for congressional Republicans who have targeted government compensation as an example of excessive federal spending.

On a vote of 309 to 117, GOP supporters scored the two-thirds majority needed to approve the measure under a suspension of normal procedural roles.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), would extend the current two-year freeze on federal cost-of-living raises for an additional year starting next January. Lawmakers haven’t raised congressional pay in four of the last six years.

The bill would need Senate approval before becoming law.

In advance of the vote, Republicans touted a Congressional Budget Office report published Monday that said federal employees on average earn about 2 percent more than private-sector employees in comparable professions. When pension and health benefits are factored in, the CBO said, federal employees earn about 16 percent more in total compensation.

With those numbers in mind, “the federal government has no incentive or obligation to reduce salaries in order to be competitive to stay in business,” Rep. Dennis A. Ross (R-Fla.), who chairs the House subcommittee on federal personnel, said before the vote. “It simply borrows more money or raises taxes.”

But Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member on the House committee that oversees federal personnel issues, said federal employees have already sacrificed to help pay down the federal deficit by enduring a two-year federal pay freeze ordered by President Obama in 2010. The freeze is set to save taxpayers $60 billion in the next decade, Cummings said.

“This bill appears to be a disingenuous and disrespectful attack against federal workers,” Cummings said.

Ross and other Republicans shot back — noting that the overwhelming majority of federal employees eligible for within-grade step increases received them in fiscal 2011. The step increases averaged $1,303 during the freeze, Ross said.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she understands the push to freeze federal pay as other Americans are facing financial hardship. “The problem is that federal employees have become a kind of piggy bank — whenever you need some money, you take it from the federal employees,” she said.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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