House pay freeze vote a preview of payroll tax decision?

Friday - 2/3/2012, 8:25pm EST

This story was updated at 10 a.m. Feb. 6, 2012.

As a House-Senate conference committee continues negotiations over how to extend the payroll tax cut, ahead of a Feb. 29 deadline, there's at least one issue that has never left the table: federal pay and benefits.

Last year, the House twice voted to freeze federal pay and make cuts to federal retirement to offset an extension of the tax cut. However, the Senate balked at those pay-fors, and when a short-term extension was eventually passed just days before Christmas, Congress turned to other areas to offset the costs.

Lawmakers named to the conference committee have mostly been tight-lipped about how to pay for the $150 billion extension. The Associated Press noted earlier this week the "glacial pace" of the negotiations.

How House members on the payroll tax conference committee voted on the pay freeze proposal (H.R.3835). (Story continues below chart)

Yea Nay
Kevin Brady (R-Texas) Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.)
Dave Camp (R-Mich.) Sandy Levin (D-Mich.)
Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)
Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)
Tom Price (R-Ga.)  
Tom Reed (R-N.Y.)  
Allyson Schwartz (D-Penn.)  
Fred Upton (R-Mich.)  
Greg Walden (R-Ore.)  

But when the House voted Wednesday to freeze pay for federal employees — and lawmakers, themselves — for an additional year, many analysts and congressional watchers saw it as only a test-run for the legislation.

"Republicans called up the bill to build support for the pay freeze as a way to help pay for a year-long payroll tax holiday," The Hill newspaper characterized the maneuver. Meanwhile, The Los Angeles Times similarly acknowledged the vote as one "intended to give Republicans leverage" in the payroll tax negotiations.

While the House bill garnered more Democratic support than initially expected, committee members — based on their votes — seem to remain as divided as ever.

The eight House Republicans on the conference committee all voted in support of the stand-alone pay freeze bill. Of the five House Democrats, only Rep. Allyson Schwartz, of Pennsylvania, voted yes on the bill.

In a press conference Friday, House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), suggested the pay freeze vote should send a message to the committee.

The House's approval of the bill is "very relevant to the work of the conference committee," Cantor said. "This was a bipartisan vote — 309 members voted for that and it allowed for about $26 billion in savings that could be easily included in the conference committee deliberations, something that our side continues to want to include."

Federal News Radio's Jolie Lee contributed to this story.

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