Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., pleaded with federal employees Monday to continue defending public service, telling a group of U.S. Census workers it is a “fight worth fighting.”
“Stand up for what you believe in,” Cardin said at the town hall meeting in suburban Maryland. “Don’t let them pick on the federal workforce.”
Cardin, who represents hundreds of thousands of federal employees in the state, addressed the crowd to warn of the effects of sequestration and to discuss alternative plans that should be considered. He said while sequestration and a pay freeze extension are likely inevitable in fiscal year 2013 -- both are included in a spending measure that is on the verge of Senate approval -- he advocated a replacement plan for 2014.
“What we need to do is substitute that in a more rational way,” Cardin said, “and I would say in a more balanced way.”
The senator said he has personally received a commitment from the Democratic Senate caucus to fight for a federal pay raise next year.
Cardin told the Census workers he sympathizes with the instability they face, but remained optimistic Congress could reach an agreement.
“I talk to Republicans every day,” Cardin said. “I think there is a growing consensus we have to get sequestration done and substitute it with a predictable budget.”
He added he has given up on convincing everyone of his beliefs because some people are “not going to have a rational discussion,” but he remains confident the majority of the American people are on his side.
The Maryland lawmaker, who has been in public office for more than 40 years and is an outspoken advocate for federal workers, said reinstating predictability would allow government to recruit better candidates to public service.
“You used to think if you went to federal service you gave up a little bit [of salary] because you had the security of mission and even in tough times you would get the support you need to carry out your jobs,” Cardin said. “Now I can tell you, there are people leaving public service today because they don’t have that.”
Cardin emphasized the importance of Census employees’ work, telling the crowd of several hundred without their data lawmakers would be “flying blind.” He told the employees not to be discouraged by scapegoating by some in Washington. Republican lawmakers do not intend to attack federal workers personally, he said, but the workforce is a casualty of the party’s “despise of government.”
“I came here to say thank you,” Cardin explained, “knowing full well Congress has a strange way of saying thank you.”