Many pay and benefits issues could be on the table during renewed budget negotiations.
House Democrats are calling on budget negotiators to protect federal employees and their benefits, arguing the federal workforce has already borne the brunt of too many cuts.
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, introduced a resolution “expressing the sense of the House of Representatives supporting federal employees,” and dozens of her colleagues have signed on.
“Federal employees inspect the food we eat and the places we work, prevent the flow of illicit drugs into our nation, maintain the safety of our nation's borders, care for our nation's veterans, deliver our mail and keep the national defense systems prepared to respond to any threat to our safety,” the resolution states.
The lawmakers asked their colleagues to reject proposals that would reduce retirement benefits to federal employees, including some ideas put forth by President Obama, such as an increase in feds’ pension contributions and the elimination of the Federal Employees Retirement System annuity supplement. They also spoke out against lowering the FERS multiplier used to calculate annuities from 1.1 percent to 0.7 percent.
Another proposal Obama has flirted with is the idea of using a chained Consumer Price Index to calculate cost of living adjustments for federal retirees and Social Security beneficiaries. The switch in measures of inflation would effectively lower benefits for retirees. Fudge and her colleagues said Congress should reform Social Security through other means. Obama has only pitched the chained CPI when tied to raising taxes on wealthy individuals, which has consistently been a non-starter with Republicans.
Many proposals the House Democrats warned against stemmed from the budget plan put forward by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Ryan’s plan calls for a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce by 2015 through attrition measures. The Democrats denounced this strategy, saying Congress should not “arbitrarily limit” the number of employees agencies hire.
“Federal agencies should be allowed to determine the hiring strategies that best meet their needs, rather than operating under an arbitrary, across-the-board hiring policy,” the lawmakers wrote in their resolution.
Ryan also said that federal employees’ salaries “continue to outpace pay for their private-sector counterparts,” another issue the resolution criticized. The Democrats said after three consecutive years of freezing feds’ pay, Congress should allow President Obama’s 1 percent, across-the-board raise to go into effect in 2014.
Democrats may be wise to take the offensive against Ryan’s proposals; their Republican counterparts have consistently showed near-unanimous support for his budget and the former vice presidential nominee is leading his caucus in renewed budget negotiations in conference committee. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., whose Senate-backed budget would reverse sequestration and did not spell out any specific cuts to the federal workforce or its compensation, is heading the talks for Democrats.
Other House Republicans have spearheaded standalone legislation targeting federal employees, such as a bill from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to fire feds delinquent on their taxes. Democrats rejected such proposals, as well as a suggestion from the Bowles-Simpson Commission to transform the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program into a “premium support” -- or voucher -- program.
Ultimately, federal workers should be “honored and respected,” the House Democrats said.
“Congress should recognize that efforts to reduce the compensation and support provided to federal employees undermine our government's ability to meet its obligations to its citizens and hurt federal agencies' ability to recruit and retain a high-quality workforce,” they wrote.