Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) on Thursday night defended federal workers against Republican efforts to highlight the high salaries and generous benefits of these workers compared with private sector workers. Holmes Norton said federal workers are very efficient, as evidenced by the fact that there is currently one federal worker for every 147 residents, and there was one federal worker for every 78 residents in 1950.

"Productivity," she said by way of explanation. "This is a knowledge workforce. It is a workforce to die for."

Holmes Norton also said federal workers tend to be in higher-paying occupations, which explains the salary differences with private sector workers.

"Half of the federal workforce ... work in the nine highest paying occupation groups: judges, engineers, scientists, nuclear plant inspectors," she said. "Less than a third of private sector workers work in these same nine top drawer occupations. So when you hear these comparisons, you're not comparing comparable workforces."

Holmes Norton was joined by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and others in her defense of federal workers. On Wednesday, House Republicans said federal employees on average earned nearly four times as much as the average wage in the private sector.

"We are talking about the highest level workforce in the United States of America," she said. "It seems to me we ought to stand up and salute federal employees for what they're doing for this country now."