Pay and Benefits Bills: Where Do They Stand?

It’s hard to keep all the recent legislative proposals affecting federal employees straight.

With the Senate’s passage of its $109 billion transportation package Wednesday, federal workers await the House’s take on the bill. They dodged a bullet when the Senate rejected an amendment extending the pay freeze. But they are not out of the woods yet. One version of the bill the House could consider includes an increase in workers' pension contributions.

After all the action on the Senate floor this week, it’s worth recapping some of the pay and benefits measures that remain on the table. And what about members of Congress? Will they share the pain in any of this?

To review: The House’s version of the highway bill, H.R. 7, currently contains parts of a bill that would require both federal workers and members of Congress to contribute a total of 1.5 percent extra to their pensions over three years beginning in 2013. Other provisions in the legislation would eliminate a current provision in the law that supplements the retirement benefits of feds not subject to mandatory retirement who are covered under the Federal Employees Retirement System and retire before age 62, a.k.a., the FERS annuity supplement. The House measure also includes a requirement that those hired (or newly elected) after Dec. 31, 2012, be placed under a high-five average salary calculation for annuities rather than the current high-three calculation.

It is unclear whether the House will have enough support to take up its version of the legislation, or whether it will default to the more fed-friendly Senate-passed bill.

And if you thought the pay freeze was completely off the table, think again. A stand-alone proposal by Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., would hold salaries level through 2013. That pay freeze extension would also apply to members of Congress, which Democrats have derided as a political ploy to force lawmakers into the uncomfortable position of either voting for a prolonged pay freeze affecting civilian employees or voting against a freeze on their own salaries. The House approved the bill but its prospects are murkier in the Senate, where it has been given to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for consideration.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers want to take even more drastic measures with their own pay. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is sponsoring a measure that would require legislators to pass a budget blueprint and all spending bills on time in order to get paid.

The measure is backed by a 500,000 member bipartisan group called No Labels, the Associated Press reports. It was debated this week during a Senate Homeland and Government Affairs Committee hearing. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., called the proposal “a legislative scream.”

He added: “As everybody knows, the public’s estimation of Congress is at historic lows. And there’s ample reason why that is so. Congress is just not fulfilling some of the basic responsibilities that the Constitution gives us.”

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