The U.S. House voted to deny a cost- of-living raise to federal government workers for a third straight year while also freezing the pay of members of Congress.
The Republican-led chamber’s vote was 309-117 yesterday, with 72 Democrats joining 237 Republicans in support while two Republicans opposed the measure. It now faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Democrats control the agenda.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, told reporters that tying congressional pay to the wage freeze for federal workers was intended to “make sure that we are consistent with what we are expecting of everybody else” in government.
Some Democrats, who support President Barack Obama’s plan to give federal workers a 0.5 percent pay raise, accused the majority Republicans of trying to politically embarrass them by tying the issue of government pay to congressional salaries.
“What we have here is a very clever political effort to have members vote either for their pay or against their pay being adjusted” with a cost-of-living increase, second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland said during floor debate.
Hoyer said Republicans were trying to “single out federal employees as scapegoats for economic policies” that caused the recession and contributed to the growth in federal deficits.
Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen, who like Hoyer represents thousands of federal workers, asked Republicans to allow a vote on his proposal to freeze only lawmakers’ pay. Republicans shouldn’t use the congressional pay issue to “hold hostage” cost-of-living raises for federal workers, he said.
That request drew an objection from the bill’s sponsor, freshman Republican Sean Duffy of Wisconsin. He said his measure, which would extend the cost-of-living freeze for civilian employees through 2013, was intended to implement the recommendation of Obama’s deficit commission to freeze government pay for three years. The bill wouldn’t affect raises that employees get for promotions or seniority in a particular job.
Freshman Florida Republican Dennis Ross said an automatic pay raise for federal workers is “out of whack” with private industry. The nation’s “appreciation” of federal workers “does not bring a mandate to pay them above market rate with little regard to their individual performance,” he said.
‘Highly Skilled Workers’
Ross said the legislation would save $26 billion. A cost- of-living raise “means much less money is available to highly skilled workers such as scientists and professionals,” he said.
Another Republican said the federal government already has too many highly paid workers. Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz said 450,000 government employees make more than $100,000 a year.
Democratic lawmakers said their leaders, while urging a defeat of the measure, didn’t twist arms.
Democrats had to make their “own assessment of how easily or not they could try to explain the nuance of this vote,” said Virginia Democrat Gerald Connolly, whose suburban Washington district has thousands of federal workers. He said he had “no trouble with my vote” against what he called a “deceptive” and “cruel” measure to freeze government pay.
The freeze on government cost-of-living raises was included in legislation the House passed late last year to help finance a one-year extension of a payroll-tax cut. House and Senate negotiators are seeking agreement on legislation to extend the payroll-tax cut through the end of 2012.
The bill is H.R. 3835.
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