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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

An Almost-Routine Pay Freeze, Defending Senior Execs’ Bonuses, Bonding With Trump and More

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For federal employees tired of lawmakers’ frequent attacks on their pay and benefits, it may be comforting to know that House members are giving themselves a dose of their own medicine.  The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a fiscal 2017 legislative branch spending bill that would freeze representatives’ pay for the eighth consecutive year. This is more than double the length of the three-year pay freeze civilian federal employees endured from 2011 to 2013.

Rank-and-file members of Congress now receive an annual salary of $174,000; the House Speaker earns $223,500 per year, while the Senate president pro tempore and the majority and minority leaders in both chambers each receive an annual salary of $193,400. The last pay boost members received took effect on Jan. 1, 2009, increasing the annual salary of rank-and-file lawmakers by $4,700 – from $169,300 in 2008 to the current level of $174,000.

While a congressional pay raise is unlikely in this political climate, some have argued that members of Congress really do need a salary boost to keep up with the high cost of living in the Washington region. Stagnant pay risks creating two classes of lawmakers: the short-timers and the independently wealthy, said former Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., before his retirement at the end of 2014.

Meanwhile, the military appears headed for a pay raise of at least 1.6 percent next year, and possibly one as high as 2.1 percent. The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday also reported out the fiscal 2017 Defense spending bill, which includes the 2.1 percent figure. That is 0.5 percent higher than the 1.6 percent hike that President Obama recommended in his fiscal 2017 budget and that the Senate Armed Services Committee backed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, the defense policy bill upon which appropriators base spending bills. The two chambers of Congress will likely have to hammer out their differences to reach a final figure later this year.

Civilian federal employees would receive a 1.6 percent raise next year, based on President Obama’s budget proposal. Though the across-the-board raise does not appear to be in danger, some civilians are facing congressional attacks on their ability to earn bonuses. The Obama administration came out against one such measure on Tuesday.

In a statement of administration policy, the White House said that it opposed a provision in the House’s fiscal 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill that would prevent VA from giving senior executives performance awards. “This provision would decrease morale among VA's workforce, disadvantage high-performing SES employees, and could prevent VA from attracting and retaining top talent committed to serving veterans,” the policy statement said.

The House is considering the MilCon-VA Appropriations bill this week. President Obama has threatened a veto, though not specifically over the language on VA executive bonuses.

Many federal employees might fear that a potential Donald Trump administration would not be as quick to defend their pay and benefits. But there is one group that appears to be bonding with the now-presumptive Republican presidential nominee. The National Border Patrol Council -- which represents more than 16,000 Border Patrol agents -- endorsed Trump in March, and last weekend Trump appeared on The Green Line podcast hosted by NBPC leaders. He told rank-and-file border employees he had their back. “We’re going to let them do their job the way they want to do it,” he said. 

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