GOP budget would amount to pay cut for federal employees


The House Republican fiscal 2015 spending plan released Tuesday by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., repeats previous proposals to increase the amount federal employees would pay toward retirement, with no increase in benefits. (Susan Walsh/AP)
Joe Davidson
Columnist April 1

There’s nothing like a Republican budget proposal to strengthen unity among federal employee organizations and their supporters.

They unanimously denounced it.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

“Paul Ryan’s Budget Is a Monster Out to Maul Federal Workers” is the headline on a news release from the American Federation of Government Employees, which is not prone to understatement.

“It’s outrageous,” said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen M. Kelley.

“I thought today’s proposal . . . was an April Fools’ joke,” said Joseph A. Beaudoin, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.

Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, isn’t joking.

“This is a plan to balance the budget and create jobs, and it builds off a simple fact: We can’t keep spending money we don’t have,” he said. “This budget provides relief for families.”

But not for families of federal employees. More of their money would be spent under Ryan’s proposal. It’s significant in that it defines the position of those who control the House. The budget, however, is not likely to pass the Senate.

The House Republican fiscal 2015 spending plan released Tuesday repeats previous proposals to increase the amount federal employees would pay toward retirement, with no increase in benefits.

In effect, that would be a pay cut.

The plan does not specify the size of the increase but says it would be “in keeping with a recommendation from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform,” better known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission of 2010. Ryan’s staff said that employee contributions would increase to 6.35 percent of salary under the retirement system for most feds, which would be a jump of more than 5.5 percentage points for the majority of the workforce.

“This would achieve significant budgetary savings and also help facilitate a transition to a defined-contribution system for new federal employees that would give them more control over their own retirement security,” the plan says. “This option would save an estimated $125 billion over ten years.”

That’s money out of the pockets of federal workers.

Republicans want “to squeeze more from hard-working, middle-class federal employees,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Federal employees, he said, have contributed almost $140 billion over 10 years to deficit reduction through various budget cuts.

Frank Benenati, an Office of Management and Budget spokesman, said the Republican budget “stands in stark contrast” to Obama administration efforts supporting the federal workforce.

There have been increases in employee retirement contributions in the past two years, but they have come in smaller amounts and have affected only those joining the government after a future date. That has created a confusing three-level system under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), with different amounts required from those hired before 2013, those hired during that year, and those hired after.

The Ryan budget is silent on a pay raise for feds. The White House recently proposed a 1 percent increase for 2015, the same amount as this year. By not opposing or offering a counter to Obama’s pay-raise plan, Republicans will probably allow the 1 percent hike to take effect without strong opposition. But don’t expect them to support the 3.3 percent pay raise proposed by some Democrats.

The Republican document also seeks “reform” of a supplemental benefit for FERS employees who retire before age 62, when eligibility for Social Security benefits begins. Republicans previously called for abolishing that supplement, which duplicates the value of a Social Security benefit earned while a federal employee.

Ryan advocates “a reduction in the federal civilian workforce through attrition,” with national security positions exempted. The budget document does not set a goal for reducing the workforce, but Ryan’s office said it would be 10 percent, about 200,000 jobs. Many agencies have partial hiring freezes in place because of budgetary limits imposed last year.

Also repeated is a proposal from last year’s plan to end the program of student-loan reimbursements as a recruitment and retention incentive. About 10,500 federal employees received such payments, totaling about $70 million in 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available.

For postal employees, Ryan’s budget says that they “currently pay a smaller share of the costs of their health and life-insurance premiums than other federal employees,” so he wants them to pay more.

But postal workers have been paying an increasing share of premiums through negotiated agreements with the Postal Service, said Sally Davidow, spokeswoman for the American Postal Workers Union. Unlike most other federal unions, postal labor organizations have collective bargaining rights. “Congress should not interfere with the collective bargaining process,” she said. Furthermore, postal operations are not funded through the budget, Davidow said. Income is generated by the sale of products and services.

Overall, Cummings said, Ryan’s “proposal unfairly targets federal employees who have been used repeatedly over the past three years as the Republicans’ piggy bank for deficit reduction.”

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Eric Yoder contributed to this column. Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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