Key senators back extending federal pay freeze

Senators with oversight of the federal workforce said Friday that Congress should freeze the pay of federal employees for a third year and retool calculations of federal retirement benefits in order to cut the federal deficit.

Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also said no workers in any of the three branches of the federal government should be spared from cuts under consideration by the supercommittee on deficit reduction.

The two senators, who frequently side with Democrats on key legislation, said a third year of pay freezes for federal employees would save about $32 billion. “All Americans, including those of us in the public sector, must help get our country out of the hole we are in,” they wrote to the supercommittee.

Lieberman and Collins also said they endorse President Obama’s proposal to reduce the deficit by requiring federal workers to contribute an additional 1.2 percent of their salaries toward retirement benefits, phased in over three years. That move, they said, would save about $21 billion over the next decade. They said the changes also should apply to the judicial and legislative branches, including members of Congress.

The deficit-reduction supercommittee asked lawmakers to submit ideas on trimming federal spending by Friday.

Last year, Obama ordered a two-year freeze on the pay of career federal employees in an effort to trim spending, and he ordered similar freezes on the salaries of White House aides and top political appointees.

Lieberman and Collins also endorsed a proposal to base federal retirement benefits on an employee’s highest five years of compensation instead of the highest three years. The change from a high-three to a high-five system would generally reduce spending on retirement pay. But Lieberman and Collins said the change should be made in a way that limits the adverse effect on workers nearing retirement eligibility.

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, blasted the recommendations, saying they would “put serious roadblocks in the way of agency recruitment and retention efforts, and place an unfair burden on federal workers.”

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of a subcommittee on federal personnel, also asked the supercommittee to spare the federal workforce from further cuts. Akaka said federal workers should share in the sacrifice but added, “I believe they have already done so.”

In the House, Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee reiterated their support for several measures already adopted as part of the GOP-backed House budget, including reducing the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition, requiring increased worker contributions to federal retirement accounts and adoption of the high-five system of calculating retirement benefits.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.


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