This story was updated with additional comment.
A House GOP freshman has introduced legislation that would prevent federal employees from receiving an across-the-board pay raise this spring.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., along with 28 cosponsors, wants to extend the current pay freeze for civilian government employees through the end of the year. President Obama issued an executive order on Dec. 27, 2012 that would end the two-year salary freeze on March 27 -- when the current continuing resolution expires -- and give civilian federal workers a 0.5 percent raise in 2013. DeSantis’ move to block the order also applies to lawmakers, but Congress already voted to freeze its pay in 2013 in the fiscal cliff legislation signed into law earlier this month.
“The president has once again demonstrated his penchant for unrestrained spending by giving federal employees an across-the-board pay hike and sticking the rest of us with the $11 billion bill,” DeSantis said. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said it is appropriate for Congress to challenge the president’s decision to give feds raises when he “continues to say one thing and do another on deficit spending.” Issa also said the automatic, across-the-board pay boost would increase the salaries of government workers “who receive poor performance review from their own supervisors.” The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a 2013 pay increase for federal employees would cost the government $11 billion.
The current pay freeze affects the annual, across-the-board cost of living increase that feds receive. Many federal workers, however, have continued to receive pay boosts through within-grade step increases, promotions and bonuses during the last two years.
The legislation comes just two weeks after the House passed a similar bill during the last days of the 112th Congress. The Senate did not take up that legislation, and so lawmakers had to reintroduce a new bill in the 113th Congress, which began on Jan. 3.
The House will consider DeSantis’ bill (H.R. 273) next week, said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in a statement. “At a time when we should be focused on helping families get on solid financial footing, members of Congress, the vice president, Cabinet secretaries and federal employees don’t need a raise,” Cantor said. It’s unclear whether the Senate will act on the legislation if the House approves it. The Democrat-controlled upper chamber hasn’t demonstrated much enthusiasm in the last few years for legislation targeting federal workers’ pay and benefits.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said he was "deeply disappointed" that House Republicans are seeking to freeze federal pay for a third consecutive year and asked them to "stop their campaign" against federal employees.
The American people expect a serious national conversation about how to get our fiscal house in order, create millions of new jobs, and reduce the scourge of gun violence in our communities," Hoyer said in a statement. "That House Republicans want to spend the opening days of this new Congress engaged in the same short-sighted and counterproductive campaign against federal employees that we saw last Congress reflects their misguided sense of what matters most to Americans."
Federal employee advocates said government workers already have paid their fair share in the name of deficit reduction. "For more than two years, middle-class federal workers across America have endured a pay freeze while their grocery bills, healthcare costs, and children's tuition have gone up and up,” said Joseph A. Beaudoin, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “This sacrifice has already saved America's taxpayers over $60 billion. How much more does the House Majority expect these middle-class families to give? It’s time Congress looked elsewhere for savings."
Carl Goldman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ Council 26, said Congress should look elsewhere for savings, namely at the rich. “It is amazing the lengths that the Tea Party Republicans will go to shill for the 1 percent,” Goldman said. “Instead of attacking federal workers, who have already contributed over $100 billion towards deficit reduction, Congress should raise taxes on Wall Street, tax investments at the same rate as income and make sure that all large corporations pay their fair share.”
National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley said her organization would "work aggressively to defeat" the DeSantis bill. American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox Sr. said federal pay shouldn't be politicized in this manner. "The salary freeze -- along with the threat of furloughs, layoffs and another complete government shutdown -- are a punishment in search of a crime."
It’s not surprising House lawmakers took up the issue again so soon, as Congress grapples with the debt limit, funding the government after March 27, and the automatic spending cuts that have been delayed until March 1. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., this week unsuccessfully sought to include provisions in the Sandy disaster relief bill that would have ended mass transit benefits for feds and imposed a 1.63 percent across-the-board spending cut on federal agencies to offset the emergency appropriations.
Several lawmakers in both chambers have sponsored stand-alone legislation and provisions in larger bills during the last two years that would prolong the federal pay freeze anywhere from one to five years. In the House, Republicans including Issa, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin and Dennis Ross of Florida, for example, each have supported prolonging the freeze on annual automatic pay increases for feds. On the Senate side, Republican Dean Heller of Nevada has sponsored bills over the last few years that would extend the pay freeze.
Early last year, Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., shepherded a bill that would have prohibited feds from receiving within-grade step increases through the end of 2012. That legislation didn’t go anywhere, but like other similar efforts, it could crop up again in the 113th Congress, as lawmakers continue to search for ways to rein in spending this year and beyond.