Senate blocks federal pay freeze extension a second time

Thursday - 12/8/2011, 9:20pm EST

By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

Senate Democrats blocked a GOP-backed bill for the second time that would freeze federal pay for three more years in order to offset an extension of the payroll tax cut. The Democrats' own plan to pay for the extension with a surtax on the income of millionaires was also voted down.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), introduced the Temporary Tax Holiday and Government Reduction Act last week.

Heller's proposal, which was voted down the first time only a few days after it was introduced, would have extended the federal pay freeze for three additional years — federal employees are now in the middle of an administration-backed two-year freeze — and cut the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition.

The extended pay freeze drew the ire of federal-employee unions, who lobbied lawmakers ahead of the most recent vote.

The National Treasury Employees Union issued letters to every member of the Senate, according to an NTEU release, and the union's president Colleen Kelley called the proposal "ill-advised" and said it unfairly targeted federal employees.

Kelley said that the current pay freeze will already leave a $60 billion dent over 10 years in the federal deficit and that many older federal workers don't even qualify for the payroll tax cut because they pay into a different pension system.

"It is outrageous to propose paying for a tax cut for middle-class workers by singling out a small group of working Americans-federal employees — while continuing to shield the wealthiest from bearing even a small sacrifice," she said in a statement.

For his part, Heller, the author of the pay-freeze legislation, lamented the fact that Congress couldn't come together on what he called "a workable solution."

"Moving forward, I hope Congress can find a way to extend this payroll tax cut to help hard-working Americans," he stated in a release.

The Senate vote on the pay freeze measure was 76-22 — not that far removed from the 78-20 outcome, last week. The Associated Press reported there was little suspense about the bill's fate because, given the partisan divide in Congress, any plan will require the unlikely scenario of a filibuster-proof 60 votes to advance.

The House is set to vote on its version of a payroll tax cut extension — which has become the latest example of congressional gridlock — next week.

President Barack Obama has threatened to delay Congress' holiday vacation in order to get a deal on extending it.

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