House approves bill to freeze federal worker pay through 2013

The House on Wednesday evening handily approved a GOP proposal to extend the pay freeze for federal workers through 2013, despite the high hurdle for passage set by Republican leaders.

The House voted 309-117 in favor of the bill, easily clearing the two-thirds majority required for passage under a suspension of House rules. Republicans needed about 50 Democrats for passage, and the bill, H.R. 3835, was supported by 72 Democrats.

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Republicans called up the bill to build support for the pay freeze as a way to help pay for a year-long payroll tax holiday — the measure would raise $26 billion over 10 years. But the vote also gives Republicans a chance to remind voters that they are looking for ways to control federal spending, while portraying some Democrats as resistant to this proposals to trim the budget.

The White House had called for federal workers to receive a slight raise next year. 

In early debate on the bill, Republicans argued that the poorly performing "Obama economy" is a major reason to support the federal pay freeze, as it is becoming harder to justify rising high federal wages at a time when millions of people in the private-sector are still looking for a job.

"It's offensive to those unemployed Americans struggling to find a job to see unionized federal employees continue to enjoy comparatively high compensation, which is used to pay dues to government unions, which spend heavily to elect politicians who promise them concessions," Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said.

Republicans also rejected Democratic complaints that they were trying to attack federal workers by freezing their pay.

"This is not an attack on our federal workforce," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said. "Be grateful you have a job." Republicans also noted that even with the pay freeze in effect, workers can still get minimal raises within their pay grade.

Democrats used the debate to note that federal workers are already in the midst of a pay freeze, and said it's unfair for Congress to continue to find savings by preventing raises for federal workers.

"It's not as if the federal employees haven't tightened their belts," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). "They have."

Hoyer, who said he would vote against the bill, objected along with other Democrats to language in the bill that would freeze congressional salaries, and accused Republicans of including that provision to trap Democratic support.

In the end, however, a little less than half of the Democratic caucus supported the pay freeze. 

Republicans were emboldened this week by a Congressional Budget Office report that said federal workers make 16 percent more than comparable private sector workers when employee benefits are taken into account. Several Republicans also noted that the CBO announced an expected the fourth consecutive $1 trillion deficit.

While Republicans stressed repeatedly that they appreciate the work of federal employees, that should not prevent them from making concessions in light of these facts.

"Our appreciation for their service does not bring a mandate to pay them about market rates with little regard to their individual performance," Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) said.