Feds safe from pay freeze extension – for now

Senate did not act on House-passed legislation before adjourning Wednesday.

This story has been updated.

A House-passed bill to extend the pay freeze for civilian federal workers will die with the 112th Congress, but the debate over whether to raise feds’ pay in 2013 is far from over.

The Senate did not address House-approved legislation (H.R. 6726) on Wednesday that extends the pay freeze for government employees through 2013. The chamber adjourned a little after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, and the new Congress was set to convene at noon on Thursday. It was highly unlikely the Senate would convene before that time to consider outstanding legislation.

That means the 113th Congress will have to start from scratch on any legislation that addresses federal pay.

Lawmakers are likely to revisit the issue again early this year, as Congress gears up to deal with the debt limit, funding the government after March 27, and deciding what to do about the automatic spending cuts that have been delayed for the next two months.

Several lawmakers in both chambers sponsored stand-alone legislation and provisions in larger bills during the last two years that would prolong the federal pay freeze anywhere from one to five years. In the House, Republicans Darrell Issa of California, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin and Dennis Ross of Florida, for example, each have supported prolonging the freeze on annual automatic pay increases for feds. On the Senate side, Republican Dean Heller of Nevada has sponsored bills over the last few years that would extend the pay freeze.

Early last year, Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., shepherded a bill that would have prohibited feds from receiving within-grade step increases through the end of 2012. That legislation didn’t go anywhere, but like other similar efforts, it could crop up again in the 113th Congress, as lawmakers continue to search for ways to rein in spending this year and beyond.

The bill that the House passed Tuesday evening, sponsored by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., would block a scheduled salary increase for federal employees this spring, as well as prevent a raise for lawmakers from taking effect. Shortly after Christmas, President Obama issued an executive order that would end the two-year pay freeze on March 27 -- when the current continuing resolution expires -- and give civilian federal workers a 0.5 percent raise. The order also would give lawmakers a pay hike.

Washington-area House lawmakers on Tuesday criticized the last-minute legislation to block a pay raise for feds, calling it a cynical political ploy, since the Senate bill averting the fiscal cliff already included a provision that prevents a congressional pay hike in 2013. The final compromise measure sent to Obama contains the provision freezing congressional salaries in 2013. It does not address the issue of a freeze for the civilian federal workforce.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., called Fitzpatrick’s bill a “pig in a poke” on the House floor Tuesday, saying that it “cynically pairs a pay freeze for us in Congress with a continuation of the pay freeze on career civil servants.” Republican Frank Wolf of Virginia agreed that lawmakers do not deserve a pay raise. “In fact, all of us should have our pay docked, as should the president,” Wolf said on the House floor. “But that’s not what this vote is about. It’s time for members of both parties to stop attacking our nation’s hardworking civil servants.”

Issa argued that the bill would not affect other pay increases that feds are eligible for, which are not part of the current salary freeze. “It will not stop their step increases. It will not stop their merit increases,” Issa said on Tuesday. “It will not stop a great many other increases in their pay and compensation. But it will say that, at this time, when the American people are not getting automatic cost-of-living increases, neither should the federal workforce.”

Federal employee advocates also blasted the latest effort to further extend the federal pay freeze, and remain vigilant over what will be another protracted battle over federal compensation this year.