House votes to extend federal pay freeze

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.,  urged passage of an extension of the freeze. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., urged passage of an extension of the freeze. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

This article has been updated.

While President Obama has signaled he wants an end to the two-year federal pay freeze this spring, the House of Representatives refused to go along Tuesday.

The House voted Tuesday evening to block a scheduled increase for civilian federal employees this spring, as well as prevent a raise for members of Congress from going into effect.

The fiscal cliff agreement passed by the Senate early Tuesday includes a provision that would prevent the congressional pay hike. But it did not address the issue of a freeze for civilian federal employees. The House took up the salary freeze measure before an expected vote Tuesday on the overall agreement.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said on the floor Tuesday that federal employees are "hard-working," but "it's not how hard they work, it's what can the American people afford." He urged passage of an extension of the freeze.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who sits on the Oversight and Government Reform panel, decried the "continued whacking away at pay and benefits," and said with measures such as the extended freeze, employees were being treated "as a punching bag."

Last week, Obama issued an executive order that would lift the freeze on civilian workers and implement a 0.5 percent across-the-board increase starting the first pay period after March 27. In the absence of congressional action, that raise would go into effect. But if the House and Senate approve a measure extending the freeze, and President Obama signs it, the freeze would remain in effect throughout 2013.

"Federal employees, who face the same economic pressures of all middle class families, have been under a pay freeze for more than two years," said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen M. Kelley in a statement. "It is time for the pay freeze to end."

“Reducing the salaries of federal workers through an extended pay freeze is a cheap political ploy,” said American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox in a statement. “Not only does it inflict tremendous damage on the families of these modestly paid workers, more than half of whom are veterans, but it also hits the communities where these employees live, since they will continue to be unable to afford any kind of economic activity beyond paying for the bare necessities of living."

The White House issued an order in late December officially extending the current pay freeze until March 27.

President Obama and Congress agreed in the fall to mainain the freeze that began in January 2011 through the end of the current continuing resolution. Obama recommended a 0.5 percent pay increase this year for feds when Congress passes a budget.

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