GOP-controlled House will give some bills new life

By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 7:19 PM

What a difference an election day makes.

Republican legislation affecting federal employees that went nowhere in an 111th Congress controlled by Democrats will now see the sun in the 112th, with the GOP in control of the House.

Bills that would freeze or cut federal pay, fire federal workers who are delinquent taxpayers and limit or reduce the federal workforce soon will get a friendlier hearing.

But that doesn't mean those measures will become law after the new Congress convenes in January. In many cases, they will be blocked by Democrats who will still run the Senate or by President Obama, who isn't going anywhere - at least for now.

Whether the measures become law or not, the tenor of the debate will change.

Here are some of the proposals that will have new life in the Republican-led House:

l Federal employees would have two weeks off without pay, under a plan by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), who says it would save $5.5 billion. Members of Congress also would be called to sacrifice by taking a 10-percent pay cut.

l Federal raises and bonuses would be frozen for one year, and the number of employees would be limited, under legislation sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

l The growth in the federal workforce would be cut by limiting hires to one for every two retirees, under a measure proposed by Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis (R-Wyo.). Her bill excludes the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, which are among the government's largest employers.

l The federal workforce, with exceptions for security-related agencies, would shrink through attrition to February 2009 levels under legislation offered by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).

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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