Hoyer: Cuts to federal worker benefits should be in mix in Biden talks

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Monday said federal worker benefits should be on the table in the talks over reducing the federal deficit. 

Congressional leaders who have been participating in deficit talks with Vice President Biden have considered increasing the contribution federal employees must make into the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), which is currently structured as a defined benefit pension. 

Federal employees contribute only 1 percent of their salary into the system. Lawmakers are considering increasing that contribution to 6 percent. In the private sector, defined benefit pensions have largely disappeared, leading to charges that the federal pension is overly generous.

“Everything needs to be on the table, and I think we all need to be willing to put everything on the table,” Hoyer said when asked about the FERS proposal. He made clear that he would personally fight against cuts to federal employee benefits and compensation. His district contains a large number of federal employees.

“I would be open to putting everything on the table and am prepared to argue the merits,” Hoyer said. “My view is the perception that some federal employees are compensated at a level beyond the private sector is inaccurate. If you compare, position by position, you will find that some positions, especially at the lower level, in the federal package is better but … once you get up to an upper level, you find that the private sector has a substantially better package.”

Sources with public-sector unions have said they are looking to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who is participating in the Biden talks, to fight back against cuts to federal worker benefits. Van Hollen represents a district in the Washington suburbs with a heavy federal-worker presence.

The National Treasury Employees Union’s legislative and political director, Maureen Gilman, said Monday that she has been in close contact with Hoyer’s office and understands clearly that he will forcefully oppose the change to FERS.

“There is a difference between saying everything is on the table and supporting something,” she noted.

Gilman said she is nervous that the proposal is on the table in the Biden talks.

“I don’t see it as a good place to start. Federal employees took the first hit with the pay freeze last year,” she said. "Let's get some others to put into the pot." 

President Obama implemented a two-year pay freeze for federal employees in December.

Gilman said FERS is not overly generous and changing it would make it harder for the federal government to hire private-sector workers.

This story was updated at 5:18 p.m.