Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. (Andrew Harrer/BLOOMBERG)

“Yes, unfortunately,” Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Tuesday.

The senator, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that has oversight of the federal workforce, said extending a pay freeze for federal employees as part of broader federal budget cuts is regretful, “but I think it’s necessary right now.”

President Obama instituted a two-year salary freeze for civilian federal employees in late 2010 that keeps salary levels in place, but permits raises for step increases or promotions. Some agencies also are still awarding year-end performance bonuses, but at smaller levels than previous years.

Several legislative proposals introduced since the freeze began call for extending it at least one more year. Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told the fiscal supercommittee in October that extending the freeze for one more year should be considered as part of debt reduction efforts.

“All Americans, including those of us in the public sector, must help get our country out of the hole we are in,” Lieberman and Collins said at the time.

The House is set to vote Tuesday on a payroll tax extension proposal that would extend the freeze for another year and require federal workers to pay more toward their retirement benefits.

A group of Democratic senators is opposed to such measures and last week urged colleagues to oppose any legislation that extends the freeze, arguing that doing so would put middle-class families headed by federal employees at an economic disadvantage for the benefit of others.

Pressed Tuesday on whether a third year of freezes is a foregone conclusion, Lieberman backtracked a bit and said: “I think it’s a strong probability. You never know until it happens.”

He spoke Tuesday at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor .

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Further reading:

Senators call for extending federal pay freeze for third year

Keep federal pay freeze out of payroll tax extension, senators say

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