House passes budget resolution with pay, benefits cuts

Measure includes federal pay freeze and changes to pension contribution levels.

The Republican-led House on Friday passed the fiscal 2012 budget resolution, which proposes to cut $5.8 trillion from current spending levels over the next 10 years, as well as drastically change the way Medicare and Medicaid are administered, in a clear display of the GOP vision for policy and spending.

The document also calls for a federal pay freeze through 2015 and an attrition policy that permits the government to hire only one new employee for every three workers who retire. The resolution estimates that by 2014, the hiring reform will produce a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce. In addition, the plan recommends requiring federal employees to pay for half the defined benefit they receive with their pensions at retirement, an increase from the current contribution of 0.8 percent of payroll.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley criticized the plan. "Apart from the broad social changes the resolution seeks to make, its anti-federal employee provisions would result in federal agencies having great difficulty not only in retaining the highly skilled, dedicated employees they now have, but in recruiting new talent to the government," she said in a statement.

While the budget resolution as passed has little chance of becoming law, it will serve as a starting point of another round of the budget brawls that have dominated Washington and national politics in recent months.

The spending plan passed on a nearly party-line vote, 235-193. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., has said he wants to move the Senate's budget resolution after the upcoming two-week Spring recess.

If the Senate approves a budget resolution, Conrad and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will try to reconcile differences.

However, given that Republicans control the House and Democrats the Senate, chances that agreement can be reached on a single spending plan are slim. The plan comes as the nation's budget deficit is expected to remain historically high, above $1 trillion for the current and next fiscal year.

During the 2010 midterm election, Republicans campaigned on cutting spending and reducing the deficit. Their victories gave them control of the House and increased their number in the Senate. The House's fiscal 2012 spending proposal reflects their efforts to keep those promises to cut spending, which they also believe is good politics.

One area where Republicans are looking for savings is within entitlement programs. Under the plan, Medicare would be changed to a defined-contribution voucher plan, while Medicaid would shift to a block grant system.

"The American people understand that we can't spend money we do not have," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner said earlier that over the two-week spring recess, he expects GOP lawmakers to educate constituents to combat claims by Democrats that the proposals would hurt seniors and the poor. He noted that any changes, which would go into effect in 2022, would not affect those 55 and older.

"I think it's important for our members to go home and talk about it, the crisis that we face, and the fact that the changes we propose would not affect one senior citizen in America because Paul has made it perfectly clear that anyone who is 55 and older would not be affected by any of those changes."

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stood with seniors at a press conference to oppose the GOP budget. She said the plan would force seniors to pay "twice as much for less coverage" and would raise prescription drug costs, points she echoed in remarks on the floor to conclude Democrats' floor time.

A Democratic alternative failed, 259-166. The House also rejected a Republican Study Committee proposal, 136-119, with 172 Democrats voting "present" in a gambit to try to lower the threshold for passage and complicate adoption of the GOP plan.

During debate, nine protesters were removed from the House chamber. One by one, the protesters, mostly young men and women, would stand up and ad lib lyrics to the "Star Spangled Banner" and to "We Shall Overcome." It was hard to pick up on what they subbed in for lyrics, but outside the chamber, where the protesters were taken and arrested by Capitol Police, one hinted that the message was environmental. While being handcuffed with zip cuffs, one protester said, "we just want our government to protect our earth and our future."

Kellie Lunney contributed to this report.