Senate deals another blow to efforts to freeze federal pay

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., introduced the amendment. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., introduced the amendment. Brooks Kraft/Corbis
After strong debate from both sides of the aisle, the Senate on Thursday rejected a legislative provision that would have frozen federal pay and the size of the government workforce.

The chamber voted 57-41 to let stand a budgetary point of order against a GOP alternative amendment to the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act. The point of order essentially blocks the amendment, offered by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., which sought to avoid $113 billion in spending, partly by freezing federal employees' salaries, eliminating their bonuses and collecting their unpaid taxes. It also would have held the number of government workers at current levels, and rescinded $38 billion in unobligated stimulus funds.

"The alternative amendment I proposed was a common sense step toward restoring fiscal sanity to our nation's runaway spending and ballooning deficit," Thune said after the vote. "The defeat of my amendment was a missed opportunity for Congress to prove they are serious about tackling our dangerous spending habits and $13 trillion national debt. This amendment would have lowered taxes for families and small businesses as they struggle through these challenging times."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell urged colleagues to vote in favor of the amendment.

"Senators will have a simple choice today. They can either vote to reduce the deficit, or they can lock arms with the Democrat leadership and dig an even deeper hole of debt when most Americans think $13 trillion is far too much already," the Kentucky lawmaker said. "If you're even remotely attuned to what Americans are asking of us, this would be an easy choice." During debate of the amendment, Delaware Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman chastised the Republicans, saying they were using incorrect information on federal pay to scapegoat hardworking employees.

"Over the years, as I've witnessed countless acts of personal courage, devotion to country and real sacrifice" by federal employees, Kaufman said. "I have also seen and heard such disheartening and baseless attacks against those who choose to serve. The pending amendment is just the latest assault."

Kaufman said it has become too common for politicians to criticize Washington by "defaming" civil servants.

"Now is not the time to talk about laying off federal workers, or freezing their pay," he said. "We should be talking -- seriously and on this floor -- about how to invest in recruiting the next generation of federal employees."

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., on Tuesday called the proposed spending cuts "arbitrary and restrictive." He also warned that the provision to cap the total number of federal employees would dramatically reduce agencies' flexibility to make hiring decisions, forcing them to find an existing employee to fire if they needed to hire a new one.

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