WASHINGTON — When the Senate returns from the Presidents’ Day recess on Feb. 25, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will be eager to push through an Obama-approved solution to the March 1 sequestration and to surmount the block put on Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Defense secretary.
He won’t be eager to pick up a House bill passed Friday that would block an order by President Obama to give federal employees a pay hike — no matter where the budgetary chips may fall.
Civilian government workers have been under a pay freeze since 2011, but the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission recommended a three-year federal freeze as part of a comprehensive strategy to get the debt under control.
Never one to listen much to former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles or former Sen. Alan Simpson’s (R-Wyo.) recommendations, Obama ordered at the end of 2012 that federal workers be given a 0.5 percent raise on March 27, at the expiration of the current continuing resolution.
Freshman Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) responded with the pay-freeze extension that passed 261-154, including 43 Democrats.
“The bipartisan passage of this bill is a great step toward tackling our fiscal deficiencies and Obama’s overspending head-on,” said DeSantis. “This bill is not a reflection of the fine work done by many federal employees, but is simply a recognition of our current fiscal situation.”
Ten of the votes against the bill were from Republicans — four of those from Virginia, which has no shortage of federal workers.
“Whether fighting crime for the FBI, rooting out terrorism with the CIA, or providing medical care to our veterans at VA hospitals, the dedicated men and women of our federal civilian workforce have served this nation selflessly throughout our nation’s history,” said Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.). “Yet time and time again, these hardworking folks are being singled out during deficit reduction efforts, despite the fact that they have been under a pay freeze since January 1, 2011.”
“Congress charges these individuals with important duties and expects these duties to be performed with the highest caliber of expertise – but rather than being recognized for their service, these public servants see their salary and benefits continually used as a pawn in the game of politics,” he continued.
Wittman said he supports freezing pay for members of Congress, as did another GOP opponent of the federal-employee freeze, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).
“I’ve had my pay frozen for many years and have supported the efforts to do so. In fact, members of Congress already have their pay frozen – whether or not this bill becomes law,” said Bishop.
“This bill freezes, for a third year, the salaries of federal workers including those at Hill Air Force Base who repair the equipment needed to maintain the safety of our war fighters and other essential defense systems. They make on average twenty thousand dollars less than the average Washington bureaucrat,” he continued. “They are also subject to a furlough, which could also cut up to twenty percent of their wages. This is unfair to them.”
Democrats charged Republicans were using the pay freeze as a distraction for sequestration, which is likely to have a greater impact on the Republican opponents’ districts than withholding a 0.5 percent hike.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the impact of the freeze was being exaggerated by Democrats even as it would save the government $11 billion.