Will budget committee target feds' retirement contributions?

Monday - 12/2/2013, 6:00am EST

Mystery surrounds much of the progress of talks in the House-Senate budget committee.

The committee, led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), is negotiating over fiscal 2014 funding levels, possible alternatives to devastating across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration and avoiding another government shutdown in January. But, so far, the committee, which has met publicly twice, has been mum on specifics.

About the only thing that's certain for this budget committee is that, like so many of its predecessors, it's likely to come down to the wire.

There are just eight days between now and Dec. 13 — the committee's self- imposed deadline — when both chambers of Congress will be in session.

The Associated Press reported last week that "chances are improving for a small-scale budget deal."

However, at the same time, Bloomberg posited, "Congress's latest attempt at crafting a budget plan is on track to end up the same way as others have in the past decade: with little or no agreement."

Will budget committee target feds' retirement contributions?

Even though press accounts can't seem to agree on an outcome for their committee, a consensus is emerging about some of the potential bargaining chips the committee is likely to use.

The AP reported last week the committee's most likely path toward a deal is focusing on smaller-bore deficit trims recycled from the 2011 supercommittee, including a proposal requiring federal employees to contribute more toward their pensions.

The Hill also reported last week that the committee was bandying about the idea of upping federal workers' pension contributions.

The Congressional Budget Office concluded, in a report published earlier this month, that requiring workers hired before 2013 to contribute an additional 1.2 percent of their salaries toward their retirements — for a total of 2.9 percent — would increase federal revenues by more than $19 billion over 10 years. That's identical to a plan recommended by President Barack Obama in his 2014 budget proposal

Ryan, however, has pushed for more drastic increases, calling for federal employees to contribute 5.5 percent more toward their retirement, which, he contends, would net savings of $132 billion over the next decade.

All told, in its report earlier this month, CBO estimated Congress could save as much as $300 billion by making changes to federal employee pay and benefits, including $53 billion by reducing annual civilian pay increases and $43 billion by reducing the size of the federal workforce through attrition.

But federal employee unions and sympathetic lawmakers argue that — after across-the-board budget cuts, widespread furloughs, a government shutdown and a three-year pay freeze — federal employees have sacrificed enough.

"Our public servants have sacrificed enough and we ask that you take this into consideration in your discussions as you search for a path forward on the budget," Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) wrote in a Nov. 21 letter to the conferees. "The budget should not be about cutting the pay and retirement and healthcare benefits of middle-income workers."

Forty House Democrats signed Lynch's letter.

RELATED STORIES:

Prospects brighten for small-scale budget deal

In House-Senate budget talks, feds fear being familiar target

CBO: Congress could wring $300B in deficit savings from federal pay, pension changes

Will new budget negotiations unravel the sequestration riddle?