Budget analysts put a price tag on domestic partner perks

Making the same-sex domestic partners of federal employees eligible to receive the same benefits as married spouses would cost the government more than $300 million over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

In addition to $310 million in direct costs between 2010 and 2020, CBO calculates the 2009 Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (S. 1102) would increase benefits-related discretionary spending by $394 million over the same period. The Washington Post first reported the new estimates for the bill, which would include health insurance, survivor annuities, compensation for work-related injuries, and travel and relocation benefits to federal employees' same-sex partners.

Providing health care to domestic partners would account for most of the increases in both direct and discretionary spending -- $294 million and $355 million, respectively.

In order to reach its estimate, CBO assumed the Senate bill will be enacted late in 2010 and about 0.33 percent of federal employees would choose to register a same-sex partnership if given the opportunity.

"That figure is based on information previously gathered from state and local governments as well as more recent research on the experience of organizations that have adopted similar policies," the report stated.

CBO estimates about 80 percent of individuals eligible under the proposal would move from single to family health coverage and 85 percent would elect a survivor benefit for a domestic partner.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who introduced the bill, said he is pleased CBO's estimate is so similar to the Office of Personnel Management figures upon which the Senate has relied.

"This legislation would cost about two-hundredths of a percent of the federal government's overall costs for the civilian workforce," Lieberman said. "That is a very small price to pay for the improvements we would see in recruitment, retention and morale. OPM has committed to provide an offset for the legislation before it is enacted, making it that much more reasonable."

In December 2009 the budget office released an estimate for a similar House bill, determining it would cost about $600 million in direct spending over 10 years. The apparent discrepancy is caused by the fact the House measure would provide benefits to the domestic partners of eligible federal retirees, as well as those of current employees.

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