House approves budget that would save money by taking from federal workers

Joe Davidson
Columnist April 10

It was a lovely day at the Capitol Building — at least outside.

The cherry blossoms and tulip trees were aglow, groups of children in matching shirts scampered about and members of Congress posed with eager constituents on the Capitol steps.

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

Inside in the House chamber, the mood was fairly friendly, too. Discussion between Republicans and Democrats on a budget measure was pointed but not angry, as those debates sometimes can be.

By lunchtime the votes were cast, and suddenly Thursday became gloomy for federal employees. The House approved a Republican spending plan, sponsored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.), which would effectively cut the pay of federal workers and end their student loan reimbursement program, among other elements.

Senate approval of the GOP budget is not likely.

“If enacted, the budget’s policies would further erode employee morale and hinder recruitment and retention,” said Joseph A. Beaudoin, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “Chairman Ryan’s budget sends a clear message — federal employees, and the work they perform, aren’t valued. Is this the message we should be sending to those who take criminals off our streets and keep them behind bars, assist our military at home and abroad, care for veterans, and help us prepare for and recover from severe weather?”

Ryan, of course, doesn’t see it that way.

When his committee approved his plan, he said “it will grow the economy and create jobs. It will strengthen key priorities like national security and Medicare. It will restore fairness by rooting out cronyism. And it will stop spending money we don’t have.”

But it would spend money federal employees now have.

Ryan’s plan would make the majority of federal employees pay 5.5 percentage points more toward their retirement program with no increase in benefits. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, called this “a straight-out 5 percent pay cut.”

Ryan’s budget resolution for fiscal year 2015 is called “The Path to Prosperity,” but it would leave federal workers less prosperous. It says increasing their pension contributions would “help facilitate a transition to a defined-contribution system for new federal employees that would give them more control over their own retirement security. This option would save an estimated $125 billion over ten years.” That amount apparently includes “reform” of a supplemental federal retirement program.

Reform is likely to mean termination of the Federal Employees Retirement System Social Security supplement available to those who retire before age 62. The plan doesn’t specify what reform means, but Republicans previously have pushed to end the supplement.

Saving the government $125 billion in this case means taking it from federal employees through higher out-of-pocket retirement costs.

Instead of a path to prosperity, the Ryan budget is a “path to ruin,” the House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), told her colleagues

Federal employee organizations agree.

The bid to increase retirement payments alone would nearly double the amount employees already have contributed, over 10 years, toward improving Uncle Sam’s finances, according to an analysis of Ryan’s plan by Budget Committee Democrats.

“After successive pay-freezes, pay reductions and benefit cuts amounting to almost $140 billion, no one group has been asked to contribute more to deficit reduction than federal employees,” the analysis says.

Ryan’s plan also would cut the federal workforce by hiring one new employee for every three who leave.

“They come after federal employees with a vengeance in this budget,” Van Hollen said in an interview. “This House Republican budget takes a meat axe to federal employees.”

During the budget debate, Van Hollen praised Ryan for the way the chairman conducted the budget process. But, Van Hollen continued, to chuckles from Ryan, the “process did not lead to a better product,” adding that it is the “worst budget in years.”

Ryan responded by saying the budget demonstrates that Republicans “trust the American people. . . . We trust the people to make an honest assessment. We trust them to make the right choice for their future.”

Meanwhile, it would further cut the ability of federal employees to make choices for their futures.

Said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen M. Kelley: “Federal employees have already sacrificed enough.”

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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