Lawmakers in fed-heavy districts signal support for budget deal

Wednesday - 12/11/2013, 5:30pm EST

Lawmakers in districts with large constituencies of federal employees are signaling their support for the bipartisan budget deal announced Tuesday even though it would require new federal workers to contribute a greater share of their paychecks to their retirement benefits.

The alternatives — another government shutdown or a second year of the steep across-the-board sequestration cuts — would have been worse, they argue.

"In my view, it is a small step in the right direction because we are able to restore many of the cuts that would otherwise take place as a result of the sequester — those very deep and immediate cuts," said Chris Van Hollen (D- Md.), a member of the House-Senate negotiating panel, during a Democratic leadership news conference Wednesday morning.

"I believe that the way those cuts are paid for is not at all perfect but a lot more equitable" than discussions earlier in the week, he added, which reportedly centered on requiring all employees to contribute more toward their defined-benefit pensions.

Lawmakers signal support -- with some reservations

That sentiment was echoed by a number of lawmakers who have previously spoken out strongly against any changes to federal employees' retirement benefits.

"I'm deeply disappointed it requires some federal employees to pay more for their retirement," Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said in a statement. "For too long, federal employees have been scapegoats of deficit reduction."

But as it stands, the deal would not block a 1 percent pay raise for federal employees due to come Jan. 1 and would spare employees from the "uncertainties of furloughs and pay cuts," she said.

Also on board is Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).

"Given the choice between this agreement and the alternative of further sequestration and uncertainty, I will support the agreement," Moran said, even as he lamented the fact that federal employees were being treated like "an ATM in the name of deficit reduction."

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), another member of the budget panel, who in a statement called it a "productive step forward that avoids another shutdown and allows the government to operate with more predictability over the short term," although he acknowledged some concerns about its impact on the federal workforce.

Feds off the table in future deals?

Federal-employee unions and groups were quick to denounce the deal.

In a statement, J. David Cox, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said he "rejects the notion that there should be a trade-off between funding the programs to which federal employees have devoted their lives, and their own livelihoods."

But Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), an outspoken critic of proposals to cut federal pay and benefits, said he supports the deal and that it could actually insulate federal employees from future cost-cutting efforts.

"I think this is a fencing off of federal employees for the next couple of years," Wolf said of the deal in a brief interview with Federal News Radio.

Along with blunting some of the sequestration cuts, the deal sets agency funding levels for the next two years, removing the threat of a government shutdown when the current stopgap funding measure expires Jan. 15.

"You can't run a government that way, and this means that we won't run a government that way," Wolf said.

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