Hoyer to vote against payroll tax cut because of federal pensions

Rep. Steny Hoyer announced Thursday that he'll break with other party leaders and oppose the payroll tax agreement, a major plank of President Obama's election-year jobs platform.

The Maryland Democrat said a provision to cut retirement funds for some federal workers proved to be a deal-breaker.

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"When we work to protect the middle class, it is only right to protect them all, and federal workers are hardworking Americans who have already contributed $60 billion to deficit reduction over the next decade," Hoyer said in a statement. "Our deficit problems were not created by these men and women, and they will not be solved by only asking them to contribute.

"We must stop targeting these hardworking men and women while not asking others to contribute their fair share," he added. "For that reason, I cannot support this bill.”

Hoyer's position aligns him against a number of other Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who announced Thursday that her concerns with the bill — including those over the pension offset — were outweighed by the provisions Democrats favor, including an extension of the payroll tax holiday and emergency unemployment benefits.

"While we do not like the pay-for … we do recognize that the bill does contain the three features that we said were necessary and does so … in a way that I think is acceptable to most of us," Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

"I don't see a scenario where our members will vote against it."

As part of the long-running payroll tax negotiations, Republicans proposed to fund an extension of unemployment benefits with a cut in pension benefits for federal employees, many of whom live in Maryland suburbs surrounding Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, Hoyer and several other leading Maryland Democrats — including Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, both members of the payroll tax conference panel — led the charge to replace the Republicans' pension offset with a cut in some federal pay.

The Maryland lawmakers proposed instead to reduce federal employees' 2013 cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) from 1.7 percent to 0.5 percent.

As a compromise, Republicans agreed to limit the pension cut to new federal employees. Cardin and Van Hollen signed on Thursday. Hoyer did not.

“The ongoing efforts to target federal workers," he charged, "will substantially undermine our ability to recruit and retain the quality of people we need to carry out duties to keep our country safe, efficient, and equipped to compete in our increasingly competitive world."

With dozens of House conservatives expected to oppose the bill over the absence of an offset for the payroll tax provision, GOP leaders will likely need a wave of Democratic votes to usher the measure through the lower chamber.

A vote on the package is expected to take place Friday.