Short-term spending measure advances pay freeze proposal

Language freezing civilian federal employees' pay for two years has made it into a stopgap funding bill to keep the government running through March 4, 2011.

In keeping with President Obama's Nov. 29 proposal, a provision in the continuing resolution the House and Senate passed on Tuesday would hold civil servants' salaries steady in 2011 and 2012. Lawmakers resorted to the stopgap measure after Republicans sidelined a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill containing a number of Democratic priorities.

The continuing resolution funds most agencies at fiscal 2010 levels with some exceptions, such as a $460 million increase over fiscal 2010 for the Veterans Benefits Administration to prevent layoffs and support faster processing of disability claims.

When the 112th Congress convenes in January, Republicans can use their new majority in the House and increased power in the Senate to place their own stamp on spending, but they are unlikely to unravel the pay freeze provision, as many expressed strong support for Obama's proposal and some urged the administration to further curb costs with a hiring freeze or job cuts.

Washington-area lawmakers in early December asked their colleagues to consider federal pay raises one year at a time "in the context of a more comprehensive approach to deficit reduction." Federal employee groups, meanwhile, have criticized Obama's proposal as unfairly singling out civil servants to make sacrifices and hurting the government's recruitment and retention efforts.

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