House approves federal pay freeze through 2013

Wednesday - 2/1/2012, 9:20pm EST

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The House voted Wednesday to freeze federal pay, including lawmakers' own, through 2013.

The vote, 309-117, came just hours after a contentious floor debate on the legislation.

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), who introduced the pay freeze extension, said lifting the federal pay freeze amid the current economic climate doesn't make sense and is unfair to private-sector workers.

Private-sector workers "have been forced to take concessions with regard to pay" and work fewer hours to keep their jobs, he said.

"My friends across the aisle come to the floor and say what we want these American taxpayers to do is to not get a pay raise themselves, but to pay for a pay increase for federal workers who already make 16 percent more than they do," Duffy said. "That doesn't make sense."

The comparison between federal and private-sector pay — and the 16 percent figure Duffy quoted — often took center stage in the debate.

In a report released Monday, the Congressional Budget Office found that, overall, federal employees earn an average of 16 percent more in pay and benefits than their private-sector counterparts.

CBO indicated, however, that comparisons between federal and private pay vary widely based on education. For example, federal workers with only a high-school diploma earn, on average, about 21 percent more than those in the private sector. However, federal employees with advanced degrees actually earn 23 percent less than their private-sector counterparts.

Bill called 'political weapon'

House Democrats along with federal unions denounced the measure as a political ploy because it ties lawmakers' own pay increases to that of rank-and-file federal workers.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said congressional pay was being used "as a political weapon to punish all federal employees." Van Hollen sought to introduce an alternative measure that would freeze only congressional pay, but it was blocked.

Democrats also noted that federal workers are already in the middle of a two-year pay freeze supported by the White House, which is estimated to have saved the government $60 billion.

"It's not as if the federal employees haven't tightened their belts," said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). "They have."

The administration is expected to include a 0.5 percent pay raise for federal workers in the 2013 budget request, which would effectively end the pay freeze.

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce, who supported Duffy's bill, said the aim is not an attempt "to cut the budget on the backs of federal employees."

"We have been very fortunate throughout the years to have a very good federal workforce, to have talented and hardworking individuals who have chosen public service," Ross said. "However, our appreciation for their service does not bring a mandate to pay them above market rates with little regard to their individual performance."

The House approved a one-year add-on to the federal pay freeze late last year to offset the cost of an extension of the payroll tax cut. However, the Senate twice blocked a similar measure from coming to a vote.

The latest measure will likely face more obstacles in the Democratic-controlled Senate. However, some Democrats may be reluctant to cast a vote that would appear to show them approving a pay raise for themselves, the Associated Press reports.

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