Given past practices of House Republicans, federal employees had reason to fear the party’s 2016 budget plan would take one hit after another at their compensation and staffing levels.
But the proposal released Tuesday by House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) appears relatively benign toward federal workers. “Appears” and “relatively” are key words here. Federal workers did not escape unscathed and certain provisions could pose dangers unseen.
Price said his plan includes “policies that can deliver real results and that empower individuals, families, job creators.” His office did not say how the budget resolution would affect federal jobs.
Federal employee leaders answered that.
Rather than empowering federal employees, National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen M. Kelley said the plan “will make the government a workplace of last resort for talented and experienced employees.”
Price singled out federal employee retirement. He would make workers pay more for the same product they get now. His budget resolution “calls for Federal employees — including Members of Congress and congressional staff — to make greater contributions toward their own retirement.”
No percentage increase is mentioned, but the resolution refers to the 2010 Simpson-Bowles fiscal reform commission, which recommended a change in the retirement formula so that employees and the federal government contribute an equal share to the cost of that benefit.
That would increase employee contributions by more than 6 percent of salary. With no increase in benefits, that would amount to “yet another big effective pay cut for federal employees,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Budget Committee.
Matthew Biggs, legislative director of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE), noted President Obama’s efforts to limit government spending on federal pensions and said that the GOP plan “could be a sign that the GOP is looking for common ground with the White House on that issue. Of course, IFPTE remains opposed to any pension cuts for federal employees, regardless of who is proposing them.”
Unlike previous Republican proposals, Price’s blueprint contains no specific plans to reduce the federal workforce, end a retirement supplement program for many federal workers or cut student loan reimbursements. There also is no planned increase in employee payments for health insurance.
No mention in the budget document, however, does not mean there will be no mention at all of employee hits before the budget is finalized.
One provision that worries federal labor leaders calls for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to submit proposals “sufficient to reduce the deficit by $100,000,000 for the period of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.”
The oversight committee has jurisdiction over such programs as the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which could still face cuts. A spokesperson for the Oversight Committee said the panel has not determined how it would reach the $100 million target.
Drew Halunen, legislative director of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said this provision “masks the mean-spirited cuts of previous GOP budgets by punting the deep cuts” to the committee.
While the budget resolution released by Price reflects the thinking of the majority party in the House, the resolution is only a planning document and not a bill that could become law. But because Republicans also run the Senate, provisions of the GOP plan have a decent chance of passing both chambers. A number of House measures that previously targeted federal employees died in the Senate when Democrats controlled that chamber. Federal employee groups no longer have that comfort zone.
“Only time will tell how this plays out,” said Jessica Klement, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.
How it is playing out now gives employees heartburn. By leaving in place the mandated across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, Kelley said, “this regressive proposal would harm middle-class federal workers and their ability to do their jobs.”
Added J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees: “Rep. Price’s budget ignores the $159 billion in cuts [over 10 years] that have already been made to federal employees’ pay and benefits and demands more cuts to this small segment of the American workforce.”
Federal employees, he added, “deserve our respect and admiration, not the contempt and derision being presented in this budget.”
Staff writer Eric Yoder contributed to this report.
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.