The kick in the gut came Wednesday with House approval of a temporary budget measure that would stretch the freeze to a total of three years and kill any hope of stopping the cuts known as sequestration.
The loss is more than money to federal workers. Many are devoted to the mission of their agencies. They worry about how their unpaid days off will diminish service to the American people.
If the House budget measure, called a continuing resolution, becomes law, it would hit feds three ways. It would wipe out the tiny 0.5 percent raise they are scheduled to find in their pay checks next month, extend the freeze through the end of the year and allow unpaid days off.
House Republicans earlier had voted to extend the freeze, originally set for two years, to three, so that provision in the resolution was not surprising.
Almost no one likes the sequester cuts, however, and few predicted that they would be implemented. Yet, after giving itself an additional two months to avoid sequestration, Congress surrendered to its incompetence and allowed the cuts to begin last Friday. There was still some hope among workers that Congress would act to avoid forcing unpaid days off on employees.
With the House action, what little hope there was is fermenting into anger.
“In the GOP-dominated House of Representatives, knuckle-dragging lawmakers lashed out yet again at modestly paid civil servants,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
Lawmakers, even the knuckle-dragging kind, also are affected by the mess they created. They haven’t had a pay raise since 2009, but they make much more than your average civil servant.
Some on Capitol Hill and in the media have suggested that the impacts of the budget cuts have been exaggerated by the White House. They don’t seem to realize that the full effect won’t be felt until the furlough days begin and the services that employees provide suffer. The naysayers also apparently don’t appreciate the situation facing workers who stand to lose a significant chunk of their pay.
Among the latest to be told that they face unpaid leave are workers in the White House Office of Management and Budget. They will be furloughed for 10 days between April 21 and Sept. 7.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), the second-ranking Democrat in the House, wasn’t optimistic about ending the freeze when he told reporters that chances are “probably pretty good” that it will last through the year.
“The federal employee pay freeze could hold for the remainder of the calendar year because Republican lawmakers insist on targeting these hardworking public servants,” he added in a statement. “I strongly oppose their continued efforts to single out federal employees, who have already contributed $103 billion toward deficit reduction and who are the only middle-class workers who have been asked to do so.”
If the freeze does last through the year, it won’t happen without a fight.
“I’ll be working my earrings off,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md), “to fight the extension of the federal pay freeze included in the House-passed continuing resolution.”
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) had a similar reaction, though he said nothing about earrings.
One Republican in a prominent place to influence federal workplace issues has sponsored legislation that would encourage agencies to avoid furloughs. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s Protecting America’s Civilian Employees (PACE) Act would require the administration “to send a report to Congress indicating how amounts could be transferred within agencies and departments for fiscal year 2013 to avoid all furloughs or reductions in force.”
Farenthold (R-Tex.), chairman of the House federal workforce subcommittee, said, “We should be able to achieve the needed savings and keep our dedicated federal workforce going strong, without devastating furloughs, and that’s what my bill intends to do.”
The bill’s good intentions are probably better than its chances of passage.
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.