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GOP-controlled House will give some bills new life

l The number of political appointees would drop to 2,000 from about 3,500 under a plan pushed by McCain and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who was defeated Tuesday.

l Legislation sponsored by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) that would have eliminated the proposed 1.4 percent pay raise for federal employees was defeated in the House this year, but similar legislation could fare better next year.

l Federal employees could be fired if they fall behind on their taxes, a proposal pushed by Coburn and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

With the tenor of these proposals, and caustic remarks by presumptive speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) about the "fattened salaries and pensions of federal bureaucrats," federal employees may wonder if they are supported or scorned by elected leaders.

Jessica Klement, government affairs director of the Federal Managers Association, said she would like to think that politicians "will stop taking cheap shots at federal employees, but everything tells me they won't."

William L. Bransford, general counsel of the Senior Executives Association, said one of its "top priorities in the next Congress is to promote the value that federal employees provide to the American taxpayer." An across-the-board cut to the workforce would backfire on the economy and on the services "that the American public has come to expect," he said.

Chaffetz could be in a key role to shepherd through or derail legislation affecting federal employees. His status as the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce, the U.S. Postal Service and the District of Columbia puts him first in line to chair the panel. He said he plans to push legislation that would significantly cut the number of postal facilities. There is word on Capitol Hill, however, that he may take over another subcommittee next year, in what will be his second term.

Chaffetz, an opponent of legislation that would allow certain benefits for the same-sex partners of federal employees, is a rising star among conservatives. He was among those who presented the GOP's Pledge to America. Released by House Republicans during the campaign in September, the document will be their guide in the next Congress.

The pledge makes their plans clear: "We will impose a net hiring freeze on non-security federal employees and ensure that the public sector no longer grows at the expense of the private sector."

More than freezing current levels, said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, "we can reduce government employment back down to 2008 levels."

Workforce reduction is not an idea limited to Republicans.

In an interview last month, Obama said he had asked agencies to develop plans to cut budgets by 5 percent. "In some cases, they may say we don't need to fill vacancies," said the president, who promised to "do everything I can to avoid more people losing their jobs."

He knows that a freeze or a cut would come at a price - less service and greater backlogs in customer service.

As much as they may fight it, federal workers know - just as Obama does - that if tight times continue or grow worse, they might have to pay a price in the form of lower wages or workforce numbers. That was demonstrated in this comment from Thomas R. Burger, president of the Professional Managers Association, whose members are mostly IRS managers: "I recently had a member say that if the pain was spread across all aspects of the country that she would not mind giving up the proposed 1.4 percent pay raise. I, for one, would tend to agree."

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