By Mike Lillis - 01/31/12 06:54 PM EST
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer on Tuesday panned the GOP's plan to freeze federal pay, arguing that it's unjustified and won't help the economy.
The Maryland Democrat, whose district is home to tens of thousands of federal employees, said the Republican proposal — which would also freeze congressional pay — is designed only to score political points in an election year.
The proposal would "disadvantage federal — our — workers versus other workers, he added. "I don't think that's fair."
Sponsored by Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), the pay-freeze proposal is scheduled for a vote Wednesday.
Hoyer said he has no sense of how many Democrats might cross the aisle to support the bill, but conceded the congressional pay-freeze provision makes it a tougher vote than it otherwise would be.
Opponents of the bill, he noted, "will be perceived as … voting to raise [their] own salary," leaving them susceptible to "a very good 30-second ad."
"Isn't that clever?" Hoyer said. "But it ignores the substance of what has proved to be a thorny issue, and that is how you properly assess the pay of federal employees."
Fueling the debate, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on Monday released a report finding that federal employees, on average, are paid roughly 2 percent more than comparable private-sector workers — a figure that jumps to 16 percent when healthcare and other benefits are considered.
GOP leaders were quick to point to the figures as reason to pass the Duffy bill.
"While millions of Americans continue to struggle with stagnant wages and high unemployment, government bureaucrats in Washington continue to enjoy significant advantages over those whose tax dollars finance their compensation," said the office of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Hoyer pushed back against the notion that federal workers are riding the gravy train, arguing that federal pay raises have been linked to private-sector hikes for more than 20 years.
"There's a lot of misunderstanding," Hoyer said. "Federal employees don't get a [cost of living] adjustment unless the private sector gets an adjustment.
"I don't know whether that's generally known," he said.
The White House has said it will push to raise federal salaries by 0.5 percent next year.