House will vote to reverse pay raise for federal workers

The House will vote next week on a bill reversing a pay increase for federal workers ordered by President Obama on Dec. 27.

The 0.5 percent pay increase, set to take effect after March 27, is the first across-the-board cost-of-living adjustment since a pay freeze was ordered in November 2010.

Obama also allowed members of Congress to receive the raise, but as part of the "fiscal-cliff" deal, the congressional pay raise was already canceled.

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“President Obama continues to demonstrate he is not serious about dealing with our debt crisis. At a time when we should be focused on helping families get on solid financial footing, members of Congress, the vice president, Cabinet secretaries and federal employees don’t need a raise," Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in announcing the coming vote.

The House bill is sponsored by freshman Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and co-sponsored by Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

“As President Obama continues to say one thing and do another on deficit spending, it is appropriate for Congress to challenge his unilateral decision to spend $11 billion on non-merit-based pay raises for federal workers,” Issa said in a statement.

Issa wants federal worker pay to be frozen and for step increases within pay grades — based on seniority and not on merit — to be suspended.

Critics of the bill say that the 0.5 percent adjustment still amounts to a pay cut compared to inflation.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) blasted the bill Wednesday.

“I am deeply disappointed that House Republicans once again will ask federal employees to give up their hard-earned pay because Congress cannot reach a balanced solution to deficits. Already, middle-class federal workers have contributed $103 billion toward deficit reduction through pay freezes and changes to retirement benefits – while other groups have not been asked to contribute," he said.

The Democratic ranking member of the House Budget Committee, whose district abuts Washington, D.C., and is home to many federal employees, denounced the move on Wednesday.

"Efforts by House Republicans to constantly use federal employees as a piggy bank — especially when the vast majority of their caucus refuses to ask millionaires to contribute more to reducing our deficit — are unconscionable. We cannot keep asking them to contribute more than their fair share as we work to put our fiscal house in order," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

A similar bill blocking the federal worker and congressional pay raises passed the House by a vote of 287-129 on New Year's Day, at the end of the last Congress.

The new standalone bill is likely to pass the House but get bottled up in the Senate.

It could end up hitching a ride on legislation to raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling or on a continuing resolution to keep the government open after March 27, when the current stopgap bill runs out.

The bill’s sponsors say the increase will cost taxpayers $11 billion over 10 years and is not justified when the annual budget deficit is slated to top $1 trillion for the fifth year in a row.

The two-year pay freeze announced in 2010 was estimated to save the government as much as $60 billion over 10 years, with $5 billion being saved in the first two years. Compared to the size of the deficit, the savings are modest.

In a release, the Oversight Committee cites a 2012 Congressional Budget Office study that found federal workers are compensated 16 percent higher than private-sector workers.

This same study found that federal workers with professional degrees earned an average 18 percent less in wages and benefits than private-sector counterparts.

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) criticized the study when it was released last year.

NTEU President Colleen Kelley said that “the main reason they come out ahead of their private-sector counterparts in the CBO report is because the federal government, as any responsible business should, provides basic benefits such as paid sick leave and health coverage.”

Kelley said in a Thursday statement that the NTEU will work aggressively to defeat the new bill.

“Legislation introduced today by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) to block a modest pay increase for federal employees is merely a continuation of the anti-federal-worker line of attack that became an all-too-familiar staple of the 112th Congress, particularly in the House,” she said.

"The salary freeze — along with the threat of furloughs, layoffs and another complete government shutdown — are a punishment in search of a crime. Federal employees had no part in the financial crisis and the ensuing recession, and they should not be forced into penury to reduce a deficit they had no part in creating," said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox.

— This report was originally published at 12:39 p.m. and last updated at 5:25 p.m.