Three New Bills That Could Change Feds' Benefits

By Eric Katz

May 15, 2014

House lawmakers have been busy lately.

Elections are coming up and representatives are looking for avenues to promote popular ideas they can then flout on the campaign trail. Here are some recent bills lower chamber members have pitched that affect federal employee benefits, both those in the executive and legislative branches.

No Mile-High Luxury

Members of Congress do a lot of traveling.

That doesn’t entitle them to warm towels, fancy meals and tons of legroom, a group of lawmakers has said.

A bipartisan coalition of House members has introduced a bill to prohibit the use of first-class flying by lawmakers and legislative branch staffers when on official travel.

“Members of Congress are public servants and should not receive special privileges at the expense of hard working taxpayers,” said Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., a cosponsor of the bill. “This bipartisan, fiscally responsible bill will close a loophole that currently allows members of Congress to buy first-class airfare using taxpayer funds.”

Exceptions would apply when coach class is not available, first class is necessary to accommodate a disability and “exceptional” security circumstances arise. Other lawmakers would be forced to the back of the plane with the rest of us. 

Looking Out for MOM

Last weekend was Mother’s Day, and several dozen lawmakers took the opportunity to offer protections to a certain kind of mother.

Reps. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Kristi Noem, R-S.D., introduced the Military Opportunities for Mothers -- or MOM -- Act last week, which would double the maternity leave for women in the military from six weeks to 12.

This would put service members in line with civilian federal employees, who receive 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“Women are an irreplaceable piece of the strongest and most capable military in the world,” Duckworth said. “Mothers in the military inevitably face separation from their children when they are deployed and serving our nation around the globe. Extending maternity leave for these women is the least we can do for those who sacrifice so much for our country.”

Union Representation

The Veterans Affairs Department has seen its fair share of headlines lately, most of which did not portray the agency in the best of lights.

Stories concerning prolonged wait times at health care facilities, steady backlogs for benefits claims and overpaid workers have plagued the agency in recent months.

That shouldn’t stop VA’s doctors and nurses from collective bargaining, according to one lawmaker. In fact, a labor organization said, union representation could greatly improve the conditions at the agency’s medical facilities.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., introduced the Improving Clinical Care Workforce for Our Vets Act, which would provide VA’s health care professionals with bargaining rights. Current statute prohibits these individuals from collective bargaining.

“Simply put, our health care professionals deserve better,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. “We will continue to fight and work with our allies in Congress who understand that those who care for our veterans deserve fair and just treatment on the job.”

Cox added: “To ensure that veterans get safe, quality care at every VA facility, our clinicians need a voice to speak up for adequate staffing, safe schedules and other workplace practices that impact patient care.”

By Eric Katz

May 15, 2014