Fate of Pay Freeze Uncertain

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

This story has been updated.

The Senate on Monday will unveil its plan to keep the government funded past March 27, and it’s unclear whether it will include an extension of the federal pay freeze.

A Democratic spokesman for the Senate Appropriations Committee would not comment on the specifics of the legislation, or whether it will contain a provision prolonging the current across-the-board pay freeze for federal civilian employees and lawmakers. The House on Wednesday voted to extend the pay freeze as part of its package to keep the government open through the end of September. That legislation includes appropriations for the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments as well as a continuing resolution funding other agencies.

The Senate version of the continuing resolution could contain more appropriations bills for specific agencies, but likely will maintain the funding levels stipulated under the 2011 Budget Control Act, according to a March 6 report from Roll Call. The House-passed bill provides about $984 billion to fund the government through fiscal 2013 and hews to the spending levels under the sequester.

Even if the Senate’s CR includes some differences from the House CR, the pay freeze extension still is likely to end up in the final bill crafted by the two chambers, despite opposition from Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who chairs the Appropriations Committee and is shepherding budget talks. Mikulski represents many federal workers and wants to lift the current freeze. It’s unclear, however, how far she’s willing to go to prevent that provision from making it into the final agreement to keep the government open.

“I’ll be working my earrings off to fight the extension of the federal pay freeze included in the House-passed continuing resolution,” Mikulski said in a statement. She also said enough was enough when it came to feds sacrificing in the name of deficit reduction. “For too long, deficit reduction has come on the backs of federal employees through sequester furloughs, pay freezes, diet COLAs [cost-of-living adjustments] and arbitrary cuts,” Mikulski said. “It’s long past-time that we stop the unending attacks on federal employees who are on the frontlines every day, working to protect the health and safety of the American people."

President Obama issued an executive order in late 2012 that would end the two-year salary freeze on March 27 -- when the current CR expires -- and give civilian federal workers a 0.5 percent raise in 2013. If the pay freeze provision remains in the continuing resolution that reaches Obama’s desk, it will overturn that executive order.

In addition to the possible pay freeze extension through 2013, federal employees also are facing furloughs under the sequester. Some agencies have said they won’t have to furlough workers, but thousands of employees will have to take unpaid leave across the rest of the fiscal year. Most bonuses and other incentives will be canceled as well under the sequester.

Some lawmakers, including Mikulski, have said members of Congress should donate their pay in solidarity with furloughed employees, some of whom could take home 20 percent less pay because of the automatic spending cuts. Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., have introduced legislation that calls for a reduction in congressional salaries once furloughs begin across government.

The National Association of Government Employees, which is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, sent lawmakers a letter on Friday urging them to donate 20 percent of their net pay for the next 22 weeks to the federal government to help reduce the deficit.

“The furloughs and pay cut are a result of Congress’ inability to do its job, yet, the senators and representatives responsible for sequestration will continue to be paid their full salary at the taxpayers’ expense,” stated the letter from David Holway, national president of NAGE, SEIU Local 5000, to lawmakers. “If the civilian federal workforce is expected to take additional cuts in their pay, lawmakers in Washington should have to do the same.”

Rank-and-file lawmakers currently earn an annual salary of $174,000; those in leadership take home higher salaries. Congressional pay has been frozen since 2009.

Though the average annual salary for federal employees now is around $75,000, many government workers, especially those outside of Washington and other major cities, earn less than that figure.

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