House passes bill that would extend pay freeze for some civilians

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

This story has been updated.

A spending bill the House approved Thursday night includes language that would effectively extend the two-year pay freeze for some civilian employees. The White House has pledged to veto the measure.

The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, passed 407-12, would prolong the pay freeze for some employees at the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments by cutting funds that otherwise would have gone toward the 0.5 percent civilian pay hike President Obama requested in his fiscal 2013 budget. The bill reduces Defense civilian personnel spending by $2.3 million and cuts VA spending that would have gone toward raises by nearly $100 million.

According to a statement from Office of Management and Budget, President Obama’s senior advisers would recommend he veto the spending bill because they believe it departs from the agreement the White House and Congress reached in enacting the 2011 Budget Control Act.

OMB encouraged Congress to support the president’s 0.5 percent pay raise proposal. “As the president stated in his fiscal 2013 budget, a permanent pay freeze is neither sustainable nor desirable,” OMB said.

The cuts in the spending bill “were made in the context of a budget that fails the test of balance, fairness and shared responsibility by giving millionaires and billionaires a tax cut and paying for it through deep cuts, including to discretionary programs,” OMB added.

Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Mich., has introduced a proposal that would ensure the current two-year federal pay freeze ends, but it has been referred to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where it faces opposition from the Republican majority.

House Republicans’ fiscal 2013 budget proposal, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would extend the pay freeze on civilian workers through 2015, reduce the size of government by 10 percent through attrition and require federal employees to contribute more to retirement benefits.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents many of the Defense Department mechanics, weapons analysts, nurses, doctors and auditors affected by the provision, pointed out that the spending bill’s language steps outside the normal legislative process for determining the federal pay adjustment in the Financial Services appropriations measure. The pay raise provisions in the Financial Services legislation typically apply governmentwide. This year’s version of that bill has not yet been marked-up. Thursday’s vote “singles out the patriotic and dedicated civilian employees in DoD and Veterans Affairs,” AFGE legislative and political director Beth Moten said in a statement.

“In other words, these are the men and women who take the burden off the nation’s warfighters while they are serving in the military, and those who care for them when they return from combat,”  Moten said.

The National Treasury Employees Union does not represent employees directly affected by the military-VA spending bill provisions, but noted they deal another blow for federal employees in a year with many Republican-backed proposals gutting federal pay and benefits. NTEU President Colleen Kelley sent a letter to House members Thursday calling on them to oppose the bill.

“Federal employees are dedicated, experienced and well-educated individuals who routinely work to accomplish their agencies’ missions with fewer and fewer resources,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said. “They are budget analysts overseeing multibillion-dollar budgets, law enforcement officers guarding our borders, and physicians caring for our nation’s veterans and undertaking cutting-edge research.”

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