Having survived the 16-day shutdown, federal workers are getting ready for the next round in the congressional budget fight. But this time they’re keeping a wary eye on their cornerman, even as they try to block the big blows from Republicans across the ring.
The next action will take place in a conference committee that is trying to bridge wide differences in budgets passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House.
Given the nightmare of the most recent shutdown, another one does not seem likely now. But with the government’s past performance, federal employees have reason to worry. There’s no guarantee that politicians will reach agreement before budget-related deadlines in the coming months.
“The Senate budget proposed by Senator Patty Murray
[D-Wash.] cancels sequestration and provides discretionary spending at $1.058 trillion as opposed to $967 billion in the [House Republican] budget,” said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. “Ending sequestration funding levels is an NTEU priority. Not doing so will lead to more furloughs for federal employees and less services for the American public.”
More furloughs are possible if the House Republican budget level is adopted, said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget. It “depends where things land as part of this conference,” she said in an interview.
That’s just one reason federal labor leaders want no part of what the Republicans would do to the federal workforce. But they also aren’t too keen on a couple of Obama administration proposals.
“Federal employees are happy to be back at work,” J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said Thursday, when the government reopened. But, he added, “they’re not breaking out their party hats, because the next couple of months are going to be full of danger.”
Obama, Cox said during a conference call with reporters, “talked about bipartisan compromise on the budget and possible changes to Social Security and Medicare.” Cox spat out “compromise” as though it dripped with acid.
Referring to three years of a freeze on basic federal pay rates, worker furloughs from sequestration budget cuts and higher pension contributions for new employees, Cox said: “We cannot give one penny more. We have given enough and enough is truly enough. We cannot have compromise.”
But that’s what conference committees do.
House and Senate negotiators have a number of proposals affecting federal employees available for consideration. House Republicans, led by Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), would have federal workers pay an additional 5.5 percentage points of their salaries toward retirement benefits. The GOP plan also calls for cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition and ending the student loan reimbursement program for federal employees.