Members of Congress representing districts near the nation's capital are gearing up for a fight with the Trump administration over the proposals to reduce federal employee retirement benefits in the president’s fiscal 2018 budget plan.
Released last week, the budget proposed an increase in employee contributions to the Federal Employees Retirement System over the next six years, an elimination of cost of living adjustments for employees and retirees under FERS and a 0.5 percent reduction in COLAs for Civil Service Retirement System participants. The budget blueprint also would eliminate the subsidy for FERS workers who retire before Social Security kicks in at age 62.
In addition to the retirement benefit cuts, the proposal also includes a 1.9 percent pay raise for civilian federal employees in 2018, and a 2.1 percent increase for military personnel.
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A bipartisan group of lawmakers representing the D.C. region, which is home to more than 300,000 federal workers, condemned the retirement cuts and pledged to oppose them. Several also said they may advocate for bringing the civilian pay hike in line with the military boost.
“Attacks like these on federal employees will prevent our government from recruiting the best and brightest workforce possible—and that harms the American people, who should have the best people working for them,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “I will continue to advocate for our hardworking civil servants, and I will actively oppose any efforts that unfairly target federal employees.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who serves on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, decried the Trump administration’s proposal given previous sacrifices made by federal workers in recent years in the form of benefit cuts and pay freezes.
"Under the cloak of ‘reforming’ federal retirement benefits, President Trump’s budget plan seeks to slash benefits and increase employee contributions by an additional $150 billion,” Connolly said. “Federal employees have already sacrificed $189 billion to help reduce the deficit. Enough is enough. These are the doctors and nurses who care for our wounded veterans, scientists who research cures for diseases, and border patrol agents and law enforcement [officers] who keep us safe.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said he would be organizing support from lawmakers in his chamber to prevent the retirement changes from making it into spending bills.
“I’m organizing like-minded senators that will join together in letters and in strategy during the appropriations process to make it clear that if they want our support, they’ll need to do what is right for our federal workforce,” he said. “We have been successful in the past in blocking a lot of the more punitive measures, but this [budget] is particularly problematic, since it cuts benefits, makes workers pay more and it doesn’t give agencies the adequate personnel to carry out their mission.”
Connolly spokesman Jamie Smith said the congressman also would support efforts to grant civilian employees the same pay raise as military service members.
“We need to be making federal employment a more attractive service [for potential jobseekers], so we will push back on this and continue to make a case on the critical services that federal employees provide and build up allies on the issue,” Smith said. “We’ve supported pay parity in the past, and I imagine we’ll continue to support that.”
Cardin also said he would support pay parity for civilian and military employees, noting that particularly in the Defense Department, raise discrepancies between civilians and troops can become a “morale issue.”
“Historically, we’ve had parity in the adjustment for civilians and our military personnel for several reasons,” he said. “It’s fair—the cost of living is the cost of living, whether you’re military or a non-military federal worker.”
Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., also questioned the wisdom of reducing benefits for federal workers and indicated she would not support the administration’s efforts on the issue.
“Another priority of mine has always been to look out for our hardworking federal employees,” Comstock said. “This budget unfairly burdens our federal employees with benefit and budget cuts. We cannot balance the federal budget on the backs of our federal workers.”