House votes to block salary hike for federal workers, members of Congress

The House approved legislation on Tuesday that would block a pay increase for federal workers and members of Congress scheduled to take place in March.

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Members voted 287-129 in favor of the bill from Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). Just two Republicans opposed the legislation, and 55 Democrats supported it. 

Republicans brought the bill up under a suspension of the rules in order to allow for quicker consideration, although that move also required a two-thirds majority vote.

The bill is a response to an executive order last Friday from President Obama that would end the two-year federal worker pay freeze, and increase congressional pay by about $1,000 for each member of the House and Senate.

Both parties agree on keeping congressional salaries from rising, and the Senate's "fiscal cliff" bill approved early Tuesday morning included language blocking the congressional pay hike. 

But the fate of that bill in the House is somewhat uncertain, as House Republicans are considering amendments to it that the Senate seemed likely to reject.

In addition, Republicans said during Tuesday debate that pay should also remain frozen for federal workers in light of the ongoing debt crisis.

"Unbelievably, in the middle of talks this week on tax rates and sequestration revision, in the midst of high deficits and a growing national debt, the president has proposed pay increases for members of Congress, and has done so by executive order dated Dec. 28," Fitzpatrick said during Tuesday debate.

"I have to say that nobody in this town saw this coming, and very few think it is warranted."

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the House has worked to trim spending across the entire federal government and that federal workers are already highly compensated.

"Currently, federal workers receive typically over $100,000, and are about 16 percent higher compensated than their private-sector counterparts," he said.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) introduced her own bill to keep the entire pay freeze intact and said some legislative response is needed.

"I too was shocked when I saw that the president of the United States, out of nowhere, at no request from any member of Congress, had issued a unilateral executive order, which means he decided to take the law into his own hands, and in effect become his own Congress," she said.

House Democrats from Virginia and Maryland, which have high proportions of people who work for the federal government, criticized the bill, H.R. 6726, as a GOP attempt to try to put the burden of reducing spending on these workers.

"The Senate last night ... froze our salaries, but it didn't do this," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said. "It didn't extend that freeze for a third year to the men and women who serve our country in federal service.

"It's yet another tired, duplicative cheap shot at our nation's dedicated federal workforce. One last parting shot in the dying days of this Congress, which cannot die too soon."

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) argued that the two-year pay freeze has already forced federal workers to help reduce the deficit.

"Federal employees have contributed now over $100 billion toward deficit reduction," Moran said. "They've had their pay frozen for two years; this will be a third year. New hires are going to have to contribute four times as much into their pension as they would have to today. So they're really being made a scapegoat."

Democrats also charged Republicans with pursuing the bill as a critique of federal workers, but Issa rejected that.

"We're not arguing whether or not the federal worker is dedicated at all," he said. "We're arguing whether this is the right time to add $11 billion" to the deficit.

House passage sends the bill to the Senate, but it's not clear the upper chamber will consider the bill, particularly given the congressional pay language already in the fiscal-cliff bill.

Immediately after the pay-freeze bill, the House approved two other suspension bills, then went back into recess so leaders could continue deliberating on the fiscal cliff. The two other suspension bills are:

H.R. 443, conveying land from the U.S. to the Maniilaq Association tribe in Alaska. Passed 410-5.

H.R. 4212 — the Drywall Safety Act, establishing safety standards for domestic and imported drywall. Passed 378-37.