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Federal Diary

House and Senate Budget Committees Take a Pass on Pay Parity Votes

By Stephen Barr
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page B02

The "pay parity" debate has been delayed until another day.

The House Budget Committee wrapped up its fiscal 2006 budget resolution late Wednesday and the Senate Budget Committee completed its version yesterday without voting on whether civil service employees should receive a pay raise next year on par with what Congress intends to provide the military.

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Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine) and Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) pulled back their parity amendments when the Republican chairmen of the committees signaled that they were not interested in addressing pay raises as part of their fiscal 2006 budget resolutions.

Federal employee advocates traditionally win on the issue of parity raises, as they did last year in the omnibus spending bill. But they lost a parity vote in the House Budget Committee last year and apparently did not want to risk starting off this year's debate with a defeat on party-line votes in the budget committees.

The blueprints approved by the budget committees are the first step in the long, winding path that Congress takes each year in writing the federal budget. As a practical matter, the budget resolutions are not binding on the appropriations committees, which usually specify the pay raise in their spending bills.

President Bush has recommended a 3.1 percent raise for the military next year and a 2.3 percent raise for the civil service. Administration officials oppose pay parity increases, in part because they say boosting raises in non-defense agencies diverts critical money from programs and operations.

Yesterday, Sarbanes proposed providing equal raises to the military and civil service, noting that the two groups often work side by side on national and homeland security matters.

But Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the Budget Committee's chairman, objected to the Sarbanes amendment, saying that he believes the armed forces should get higher pay next year because of the war in Iraq.

"I don't think it should be the law of the land, especially when you are at war," Gregg said, adding, "as a concept, it makes sense most of the time, but when you are at war, it doesn't make sense."

Sarbanes countered by noting that the government provides combat pay for troops that are in danger and suggested that some military personnel hold less risky jobs than law enforcement officers and others in the civil service. Gregg's objection, he said, "sends a very bad message."

Sarbanes then withdrew his proposal and said he would seek to bring it up on the Senate floor.

Despite the GOP objections, Allen expressed optimism yesterday that Congress will support parity increases for next year.

"When I talked to the chairman, he said he simply could not, at this stage, agree . . . but he did say, we always fix this in the end," Allen said. "I take that as recognition that down the road we will, one way or another, get a pay parity provision passed, because there is strong bipartisan support for this."

Sean M. Spicer, communications director for the House Budget Committee, said Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) sought to put together a budget blueprint that did not make assumptions about decisions that will be made by other committees, especially in the areas of revenue and appropriations.

"Generally speaking, the House likes to be silent on policy decisions in the budget," Spicer said.

Prior to the Budget Committee meeting, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), the House Government Reform Committee chairman, and seven other House members sent a letter to Nussle in support of pay parity.

Robert White, a spokesman for Davis, said: "This was not unexpected. Chairman Davis will of course work very closely with the Appropriations Committee to ensure that pay parity becomes a reality, and we have every confidence that will happen."

Talk Shows

Ralph Thomas, an assistant administrator at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com.

Roberto Salazar, administrator of the Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service, will be the guest on the "IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Training the New Employee to Be My Supervisor?" will be the topic for discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com

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