Congress approves extended pay freeze

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The Senate on Saturday approved a six-month spending measure that includes an extended pay freeze for federal employees and members of Congress and avoids a government shutdown. The joint resolution now heads to President Obama for his signature, more than a week before the current fiscal year ends.

As expected, lawmakers passed a $1.047 trillion continuing resolution that funds the government through March 27, 2013. The stopgap spending measure ensures feds, already working under a two-year pay freeze, will not see a salary bump until April at the earliest. President Obama in August recommended a 0.5 percent pay raise for federal workers in 2013 but not until Congress passes a budget, effectively extending the freeze that took effect in January 2011. Individual employees still remain eligible for raises if they receive promotions, step increases, or performance awards.

Federal employee unions have criticized the move to extend the across-the-board federal civilian salary freeze and are calling on the White House and Congress to make any pay raise approved next year retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013.

Rank-and-file lawmakers, who earn $174,000 a year, have denied themselves an annual pay increase since 2009.

The continuing resolution is necessary to avoid a government shutdown on Sept. 30. It sets fiscal 2013 funding at the level mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act, keeping spending at the current rate for agencies and federal programs with an across-the-board increase of 0.6 percent over the base rate for a total of $1.047 trillion.

The CR provides $88.5 billion in war-related funding, as well as additional money for wildfire suppression efforts at the Interior Department and Forest Service, and a funding boost for the Veteran Affairs Department to handle an increase in disability claims. The measure also gives Customs and Border Protection, part of the Homeland Security Department, some flexibility to shift funds internally to maintain current staffing levels for CBP officers and Border Patrol agents. The bill provides $6.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund, the same amount as last year.

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