House passes bill to block federal-worker pay raise

Bill O'Leary/TYhe Washington Post - Visitors photograph the building as US lawmakers at the Capitol wrangle over negotiations to head off the fiscal cliff on December, 31, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/T)

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The House on Friday approved legislation to stop a 0.5 percent pay raise for federal workers from taking effect in April.

Under a presidential order, the pay increase will kick in after the government’s last temporary spending plan expires, unless lawmakers agree to block the salary bump.

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The vote on the House bill was 261 to 154, with only 10 Republicans voting against it and 43 Democrats supporting it. The measure faces questionable prospects in the Senate, where similar House-approved measures died last year.

The bill’s sponsors argued that the pay increase would cost $11 billion over 10 years, and it comes at a time when automatic cuts are threatening the federal workforce. The sequester could force unpaid furloughs for federal employees.

The White House issued a statement Wednesday opposing the House measure, saying a raise would help the government recruit and retain quality public workers.

Unions and professional associations representing federal employees also opposed the bill, pointing out that the government hasn’t provided its usual annual raises for more than two years and that new hires have to pay more toward their retirement benefits.

“Federal workers — the same federal workers who care for our veterans and secure our borders and regulate our drug supply — have already contributed more than $100 billion toward reducing the deficit,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a floor statement. “No other group of Americans has contributed more to reducing the deficit.”

In contrast, committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the president’s executive order on federal pay was a “cynical ploy to curry political favor with one of the largest unionized workforces in America.” His office released a statement Friday saying federal employees are compensated 16 percent more on average than their private-sector counterparts.

Issa’s number comes from a 2012 Congressional Budget Office report that compared pay and benefits. A recent government comparison looking at salaries alone found that federal employees are underpaid by 35 percent on average compared with their cohorts in the private sector.

The president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association said the House bill amounted to little more than a political statement.

 
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