Unions once again urge supercommittee to save feds' pay, benefits

Friday - 10/21/2011, 2:15pm EDT

The Congressional supercommittee should reject their colleagues' advice to reduce the deficit by extending federal pay freezes and requiring government workers to pay more for retirement benefits, a coalition representing federal workers and retirees said in a letter to the committee.

The Federal-Postal Coalition, whose member groups together represent 4.6 million feds and retirees, outlined the impact that plans advanced by members of the House and Senate committees that oversee government operations would have on federal workers' wallets.

"We strongly urge you to reject any proposals which would further harm the livelihood of federal employees," the coalition said in their letter to the chairmen of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which is working on a plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion.

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee respectively, recommended extending the two-year federal pay freeze for one more year, until 2013. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee suggested extending it until 2015.

"Federal workers have already contributed $60 billion in deficit reduction," through the current pay freeze, the coalition wrote. "The Joint Committee's deliberations should take this into account in the balancing of sacrifices and their consequences."

The coalition further urged the supercommittee leaders to reject plans that would chip away at federal retirement benefits.

Lieberman and Collins suggested basing retirement payment amounts on the compensation an employee makes during their five highest-grossing years, rather than the current three. They also have seconded President Barack Obama's proposal to require employees to pay 1.2 percent more of their salaries toward retirement.

Instead, supercommittee members should reduce payments to government contractors, the coalition said. It praised Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and House Democrats for supporting a cap of $200,000 on reimbursements for contractors' salaries. Akaka also has proposed a 15 percent cut in government contracts.

The coalition endorsed a more popular plan to let the Office of Personnel Management negotiate pharmacy benefits for federal health plan participants via a single contract. OPM says that would save billions by leveraging the purchasing power of eight million participants to set lower prices.

While the coalition focused on governmentwide reductions in its letter, it singled out two agencies that needed greater resources. The IRS should get more money for tax enforcement activities, it said. Congress should protect Defense Department civilian jobs.

"Under the initiatives already approved by Congress and the administration, civilian personnel are being targeted for a disproportionate percentage of cuts, reducing jobs and economic activity since many of these positions return taxpayer dollars to the community as economic multipliers almost double those for other sectors, creating on average three jobs for every one," the coalition wrote.

The supercommittee is supposed to unveil its plan by Thanksgiving. Congress will be able to either approve or reject the plan, but not amend it.

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