Senate rejects pay freeze amendment to transportation bill

Tuesday - 3/13/2012, 5:19pm EDT

The Senate has defeated an amendment to a transportation bill that would have extended the federal pay freeze through 2013.

In a 57-41 vote, lawmakers rejected the amendment, introduced last week by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). The measure needed 60 votes to pass.

The Roberts amendment would have extended the current two-year pay freeze for an additional year as part of a special deficit-reduction trust fund to help pay for expired tax provisions and promote gas exploration on federal lands.

The transportation bill, S. 1813, funds federal highway and related programs.

Federal unions, including the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees, had decried the measure, saying it unfairly targeted federal workers. Under the current pay freeze, federal employee have already contributed $60 billion toward deficit reduction, AFGE said.

Upon the amendment's defeat, NTEU President Colleen Kelley said the vote "is clear evidence that many members of the Senate understand the need for shared sacrifice among every group in our society, rather than turning to federal employees for even greater contributions, especially to fund matters unrelated to the federal workforce."

The pay freeze measure was one of 20 amendments to the transportation bill. The Senate approved one of them — allowing retirement-eligible federal employees to begin working working part-time while drawing on their annuities — last week.

An extension to the pay freeze and other measures affecting federal pay and benefits have been eyed increasingly by lawmakers, as offsets for various pieces of legislation.

In an unrelated vote last month, the House voted to freeze federal pay for a third year. That stand-alone measure was driven by the current economic climate, sponsor Sean Duffy (R-Wisc.) said at the time.

Also last month, the House and Senate approved a compromise payroll tax cut deal that requires employees hired beginning in 2013 to contribute 2.3 percent more toward their pensions.

Despite the multiple amendments, which led to an "all-day marathon of Senate voting" Tuesday, according to the Associated Press, the prospects for Senate passage seem positive. Lawmakers appear to be "steering past partisan fights that have kept it sidelined," AP reported.

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