Keep federal pay freeze out of payroll tax extension, senators say

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is among eight Democratic senators calling on colleagues to reject extending a federal pay freeze to pay for tax cuts
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is among eight Democratic senators calling on colleagues to reject extending a federal pay freeze to pay for tax cuts


By Ed O’Keefe

Posted: Dec.9th,2011  6:03 am ET

Eight Democratic senators are urging colleagues to reject proposals to pay for extending the payroll tax cut by prolonging a federal worker pay freeze.

The Senate blocked consideration Thursday of separate Democratic and Republican plans to extend the payroll tax cut, as the partisan stalemate over the issue continues. The GOP plan would have paid for the cut by freezing federal pay for a third straight year, cutting 200,000 federal jobs through attrition and by charging higher Medicare premiums for wealthy seniors.

The National Treasury Employees Union called the GOP proposal an “unjust, ill-advised proposal” that targeted federal workers “for even further sacrifice.”

Joseph A. Beaudoin, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, agreed. “Even when a policy like the payroll tax holiday is supposed to help middle-class Americans like us, it comes with a federal worker penalty attached,” he said. “That’s not a ‘holiday’ for middle-class federal workers — it’s a double shift.”

Despite its failure in the Senate, House Republicans are expected to vote next week on a similar measure that would extend the payroll tax cut, but also make changes to entitlement programs, accelerate the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast – and freeze federal pay.
In anticipation of the House vote, Senate Democrats representing states with hundreds of thousands of federal workers urged colleagues to stop proposing plans that would hurt middle-class, cash-strapped federal workers.

“To ask these hard-working individuals – the very people who keep our food supply safe, our borders secure and develop life-saving technologies – to make further sacrifices is simply unfair,” the senators wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). “Federal employees are facing the same challenges as other middle-class families during this difficult economic time. … While we can all agree on the importance of job growth and deficit reduction, we cannot balance the budget on the backs of federal employees who carry out the business of the American people every day.”

The Democratic senators from fed-heavy Virginia and Maryland–Mark Warner, James Webb, Benjamin Cardin and Barbara Mikulski–co-signed the letter with Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

President Obama ordered a two-year pay freeze for federal employees in 2010, just days after midterm elections ushered dozens of tea party-backed, anti-spending lawmakers into office. Since then, Republican lawmakers have called for extending the pay freeze for at least another year, noting that the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission also recommended a three-year freeze.

But the Democratic senators cited Employment Cost Index statistics that said an extension of the federal pay freeze would come as private sector pay climbs over the three years by an average 4.7 percent.

And while the eight senators say an extended pay freeze would hurt workers, their colleagues with oversight of the federal workforce disagree. In October, Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in October that federal pay should be frozen again to “help get our country out of the hole we are in.”