The House and Senate easily passed a $150 billion measure to extend the payroll tax holiday Friday, despite the near-unanimous opposition of Washington-area lawmakers concerned that the measure will force some federal employees to contribute more to their pensions.
The bill, which would also extend unemployment benefits and prevent a scheduled cut in payments to doctors under Medicare, passed the House on a bipartisan 293-132 vote and then cleared the Senate on a 60-36 tally, clearing the way for President Obama’s signature.
The measure drew “no” votes from Maryland Sens. Benjamin Cardin (D) and Barbara Mikulski (D) and Reps. Donna Edwards (D), Steny Hoyer (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D), as well as Virginia Sen. Mark Warner (D) and Reps. Gerald Connolly (D), James P. Moran Jr. (D) and Frank Wolf (R).
Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) was the lone area lawmaker to vote for the bill.
“I’m voting no to send the message that ‘enough is enough,’”said Van Hollen, who served on the conference committee that negotiated the deal and even signed the final conference report.
He and other area members are upset that the bill would require new federal hires with less than five years of previous federal service to contribute 2.3 percent more of their salaries toward their pensions than current workers do. But Van Hollen made clear that he supported much of what the bill accomplishes, as did Hoyer, the House Minority Whip.
“I am for almost all of this bill. What we are funding this bill with was unnecessary, unfair, and ought to be rejected,” Hoyer said, referring to the pension change.
Moran said, “Extending a tax cut for the middle class by taking from the paychecks of middle class federal workers is not fair, nor does it make sense,” while Connolly noted that House Republicans had also sought to use increased federal payroll contributions to pay for a highway bill.
Mikulski said she also backed portions of the bill, “but I’ll be darned if I agree to pay for it by cutting payments to hospitals that serve the poor and asking civil servants to take another cut in their pensions when billionaires don’t have to contribute a dime.”
Cardin, along with Van Hollen, played a key role in negotiating the final bill and preventing federal pensions from taking a larger hit. But he opposed the measure anyway.
Warner said Thursday he would oppose the bill both because the pension change and because the payroll tax cut was not offset with other tax increases or spending cuts.
“We’re advancing a policy that I think will come back to haunt us later this year when the bush tax cuts are die to expire,” Warner said.