Dear Deficit Commission, Please Spare Feds

The deficit reduction super committee has seen no shortage of opinions on how to handle federal pay and benefits going forward. Proposals have come from the Obama administration, the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission convened last year and various groups of lawmakers, the latest a plea from House Democrats who traditionally have been supportive of government employees.

Reps. James Moran, D-Va., Gerry Connolly, D-Va., Donna Edwards, D-Md., Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. on Friday sent a letter to super committee leaders asking them to spare feds from further cuts. Increasing pension payments, downsizing the workforce and dismantaling the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and replacing it with a voucher system would do more harm than good, they wrote. Instead, they suggested reforms to the pharmacy contracting practices under FEHBP.

In the House, there has been a clear division over this issue. Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week called on the commission to leave feds alone, instead cutting spending on contractor salaries. Republicans on that same committee, lead by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., are recommending an extended pay freeze, hiring cuts, an end to step increases and changes to federal pension programs.

On the Senate side, the battle is a little less black and white. Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, who head up the committee responsible for federal employee issues, acknowledged that further cuts would be harmful but advised that there may not be much choice if the super committee really wants to reduce spending. Their recommendations echo some of Issa's, including an extended pay freeze and pension reform.

Within that committee, however, is one voice for goverment workers. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chair of the subcommittee on the federal workforce, sent a letter to the commission in support of protecting employees. The letter also drew attention to legislation that would protect whistleblowers, improve the hiring process and provide training for federal managers.