Budget

Dems, labor say federal workers are being scapegoated

The Monday conference call came a day before the House Oversight Committee was set to mark up a Republican proposal that would significantly reduce pensions for new federal employees.

{mosads}The proposals in the legislation are similar to the pension ideas included in the full-year extension of the payroll tax cut that the House passed in December. 

Republicans have pushed to use an extension of the current federal pay freeze to pay for another 10 months of the payroll tax break, with a House vote on the issue last week garnering the support of 72 Democrats and the vast majority of Republicans. 

Meanwhile, a group of GOP senators has proposed reducing the federal workforce to scrap a round of automatic spending cuts, triggered by the failure of the debt-reduction supercommittee, that will especially target military budgets.

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), the sponsor of the new pension legislation, called critics of the measure off-base on Monday, saying that long-term pension costs were a major contributor to budget deficits.

“The ‘tax the rich’ push by the White House is a red herring meant to distract from the reality of the fiscal crisis we face,” Ross told The Hill in a statement.

The Florida Republican, who chairs the Oversight subcommittee that deals with the federal workforce, also said that many in the private-sector had already seen their own retirement plans take a hit.

“Unlike the government, the private sector workforce must live with the consequences of these actions,” Ross said. “To somehow exempt the federal workforce from reality does a disservice to the taxpayer and the economic health of the government.”

Republicans in recent weeks have also cited a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis that found federal workers were, on average, compensated 16 percent more than their private-sector counterparts.

Federal employees would contribute 0.5 percent more per year to their pensions over a three-year span under the Oversight measure, and certain workers would no longer see a retirement supplement. 

Pensions for new federal employees with less than five years of previous experience also would be based on the average of an employee’s five highest annual salaries, not the current top three. 

But Colleen Kelley, the president of NTEU, and Connolly said those proposals would make it more difficult for federal agencies to attract needed talent. 

Connolly, whose Northern Virginia district contains many federal workers, also said that the pension legislation was part of a GOP push to cast private-sector jobs as more important and preferable to public work.

“A job is a job,” the Virginia Democrat said.

Kelley said Monday that she couldn’t support any changes to the federal pension system until policymakers made a more concerted effort to look to other sectors and taxpayers to find savings. 

“It is totally unjustified to try to put such a disproportionate burden on one group while continuing to shield the wealthiest from any contribution at all,” Kelley said.

This post was updated at 4:40 p.m.

This post was also updated to clarify the supplement that would be changed under the House bill.

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