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Eyes on the Prize

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It's only July and already the House has passed a 3.1 percent pay raise for civil service workers in 2006, but does that mean employees will get their raises on time?

Not necessarily.

It's true that House members worked to get their measure, which was included in the 2006 Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill (H.R. 3058), passed before the July recess. For the last two years, the House didn't pass its bill until September.

In order for the pay raise to go through, though, a number of hurdles still must be jumped. The Senate also must pass a bill with a pay raise. Then members from each chamber will have to work out differences in the two versions of the bill. Once the committee reaches agreement, each chamber must pass a final version.

"All we can do on the House side is to pass our appropriations bill in a timely manner, which is what Chairman [Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.] got done this year," House Government Reform Committee spokesman Robert White said. "We're very happy with the 3.1 percent, and now we're waiting for the rest of the pieces to fall into place."

The target adjournment date Congress has set is Sept. 30, and the last possible moment that Congress and the president could finish their work on time is the end of the calendar year, Dec. 31. Then the pay increase could go directly into effect for the 2006 calendar year.

However, if a logjam in Congress prevents a timely finish to the effort, workers will receive part of their raise retroactively, which is what happened in 2003 and 2004, when workers received their extra pay at least three months or more late. For 2005, the raise went into effect on Jan. 9.

While Congress is on track to get that pay increase to workers on time, the recent retirement of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor means the Senate will have to spend time confirming a court nominee. That duration can vary. While O'Connor's confirmation hearings lasted less than two weeks, the hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas went on for more than a month.

Members of Congress also have President Bush's Social Security reform agenda, as well as all other spending items, to deal with in that same period.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet about their version of the 2006 Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill on Tuesday, according to committee spokeswoman Jenny Manley.

Once Congress finishes its work, the president has to sign the bill into law. President Bush objected to the raise, because it is higher than his proposed 2.3 percent pay increase. This may be where the trouble begins, according to American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage.

Getting the bill finished on time is "very important," Gage said. "[The Office of Management and Budget] has promised me they will [institute] pay parity this year, but I still think the administration is not finished. I don't think they're done."

In an added complication, there is a pay raise formula already established by law - the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act. If the final pay raise differs from the number mandated by FEPCA, by law the president will need to issue a statement to reconcile the discrepancy.

 
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