Senate Republicans call for two-year pay freeze extension

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is a sponsor of the bill. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is a sponsor of the bill. Susan Walsh/AP

Senate Republicans on Thursday introduced a bill that would freeze federal pay for another two years and reduce the size of the government by 5 percent through attrition.

The legislation is designed to stave off cuts to the Defense Department budget if sequestration takes effect in 2013, and is the latest attempt by lawmakers to reduce federal compensation and shrink the government workforce in the name of deficit reduction. The Pentagon already is slashing more than $400 billion from its budget and would have to find another $500 billion in savings during the next decade if across-the-board automatic spending cuts take effect next year as mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The 2012 Down Payment to Protect National Security Act would extend the federal civilian pay freeze through 2014 and would replace every three federal employees who leave government with two hires until the workforce shrinks by 5 percent. The legislation estimates the extended freeze and workforce reductions through attrition would save the $110 billion in spending cuts that Defense would have to make in 2013 if sequestration takes effect.

GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John Cornyn of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jon Kyl of Arizona, John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida introduced the measure.

A press release from McCain’s office specifically cited a recent report from the nonprofit Congressional Budget Office that concluded federal employees are better compensated on average than their private sector counterparts. “During a time of persistent unemployment, stagnant economic growth and record deficits, it’s inexcusable that federal employees are being compensated so much more than taxpayers in the private sector who subsidize those federal benefits,” the senators said in a statement.

Federal employee unions questioned that CBO report and have voiced opposition to other measures that would further reduce federal employees’ pay and benefits. The House on Wednesday passed a bill that would extend the federal pay freeze for one year. “CBO is clearly the expert on congressional budget scoring, but pay comparisons are not its principal expertise; that is the expertise of the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley. “BLS data have shown a consistent pay gap of 26 percent in comparable public and private sector jobs in favor of the private sector.” American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage called the CBO study “pointless.”

Government employee advocates were similarly disappointed over the House-passed bill to extend the salary freeze. “Extending the federal pay freeze by an additional year would cost federal workers and their families tens of thousands of dollars over the course of their careers, on top of tens of thousands more in forgone income resulting from the current two-year freeze,” National Federation of Federal Employees National President William Dougan said. “This is a damaging development for the 2 million middle-class federal workers struggling to get by in this economy just like anyone else.”

In December 2011, House lawmakers introduced a bill similar to the Senate legislation unveiled Thursday. Also called the Down Payment to Protect National Security Act, that bill would reduce the federal workforce through attrition as well.

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