"Pay parity" between the civil service and the military will be one of many issues on the table today when the House and Senate budget committees put together their annual spending blueprints for the government.
In his fiscal 2004 budget plan, President Bush proposed a 2 percent pay raise for federal employees and a 4.1 percent increase for the military.
The pay recommendations have raised concerns among lawmakers, especially members of the Washington area delegation, who say the civil service has taken on new challenges since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
These lawmakers, in letters and appeals to colleagues, have quickly moved to put the matter before Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, and Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), who heads the House Budget Committee.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, has mustered his committee's support for parity in pay raises for the civil service and the military.
"As we fight the war on terrorism at home and abroad, respecting the tradition of 'pay parity' is more important than ever," Davis said in a statement to the House budget panel.
"Civilian employees at numerous federal agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the departments of Justice, State and Homeland Security, are working hard to protect and defend our freedom and values. 'Pay parity' demonstrates that both military and civilian workers are essential to maintaining the success, strength and general welfare of our nation," Davis said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also plans to support parity in raises as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. In a letter to Nickles, Collins commended Bush for "a fair pay raise for our military personnel. However, it is my strong view that civilian employees should also be rewarded for their work on the front lines during these difficult times and be granted a pay raise on par with military personnel."
Two other Senate GOP leaders, John W. Warner (Va.) and George Allen (Va.), sent a letter to Nickles yesterday expressing their concerns about the proposed 2 percent raise for the civil service.
"Our efforts on homeland security and the war on terrorism can only be successful with a highly skilled and experienced federal workforce," the senators wrote.
They also noted the increasing cost of health care for federal employees "as a justification for a more appropriate increase. This year marked the third year in a row that Federal Employees Health Benefits Program premiums averaged an increase in the double digits. Health care should not be cost prohibitive for federal workers and their families."
Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the House Budget Committee, said he plans to bring up the parity issue today when the House panel meets. Moran said he would line up Democratic support and had "talked with Tom Davis about his side of the aisle."
Moran said he hopes to win approval of a pay-parity amendment on a voice vote. The Senate probably will not finish work on its version of the budget resolution until tomorrow.
The push for parity in the civil service and military raises began in January, when Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) introduced a sense-of-the- Congress bill on the issue. It has attracted 20 co-sponsors, including Allen, Warner and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.). Last month, several House members, including Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), wrote Nussle in support of pay raise parity.
Bush administration officials contend that the proposed 2 percent pay raise for the civil service is appropriate, in part because inflation rates are low and because large annual raises divert money from critical programs.
Although the administration did not prevail last year in a similar pay-parity fight, boosting civil service pay may be a tougher sell this year. The budget committees are grappling with rising federal deficits and White House pressure to cut taxes while holding the line on government spending.
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