Federal Times Blogs
A pregnant federal employee who recently found out she is going to lose her job at the National Zoo asked President Obama a hard question yesterday: “What would you do, if you were me?”
Karin Gallo, who will be laid off from her public affairs job June 4, said at a town hall meeting sponsored by CBS News that she took a federal job thinking it was secure, but is now “scared about what the future holds.”
Obama didn’t really answer Gallo’s question. He instead launched into a defense of public sector workers, noted the two-year pay freeze feds are already under, and said that cutting government jobs can have devastating effects on real people. “These are not abstract questions,” Obama said. “And I think Karin makes it really clear that there are real consequences when we make these decisions.”
Carol Fiertz, the Zoo’s associate director of finance and administration, told FedLine the Zoo had to resort to layoffs because of budget shortages. The Zoo’s budget increases in recent years haven’t been enough to keep up with rising animal feed costs and cost-of-living pay raises Congress approved for federal employees.
Besides Gallo, the Zoo is laying off two other public affairs employees, three exhibit employees who make signs, and one horticulturalist. Fiertz said the Zoo hasn’t laid anyone off in several years, though she couldn’t remember when the last layoffs were.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor’s office tells me that they’re hoping to attach a proposal to cut out next year’s federal pay raise to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, possibly today. Cantor, R-Va., plans to use the so-called “motion to recommit” — a House rule which gives the minority party one last chance to amend a bill — to force a vote on the issue.
If a pay freeze is attached to something as big and crucial as the Defense authorization bill, that could make it tough to extricate. There’s a lot that could happen – it could get stripped out in a conference committee if the Senate’s version doesn’t contain a similar provision, for example. But if the 2011 NDAA arrives on President Obama’s desk with the pay freeze included, would he go so far as to veto the entire bill over that issue? It’s hard to say, but given the fact that Obama’s already taking serious political fire over the size of the deficit, he may not want this fight.
The Senate just voted 53-45 to table an amendment that would have frozen federal employees’ raises, bonuses and salary increases for one year.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to break ranks and vote to kill the measure, which was sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla. But six Democrats — Evan Bayh of Indiana, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bill Nelson of Florida, and John Tester of Montana — voted to continue debating the amendment. Of course, that’s not necessarily the same thing as voting for it, but it does suggest Democrats may not be united in their support for federal employees’ raises.
The amendment would also have imposed a hard cap on federal staffing, and required all agencies to cut one existing full-time employee for each new full-time employee hired. This section of the amendment did not allow any exceptions to the hiring freeze.
A House bill with similar provisions could come up for a vote later today.
Shameless self-promotion time: I’ll be on News Channel 8′s Federal News Tonight program this evening at 7:30 to talk about a few controversial issues we’ve been covering lately.
I’ll first talk about Federal Times’ exclusive look at an upcoming report on problems with the intelligence community’s pay-for-performance system. And then we’ll discuss the growing controversy about federal pay raises and the Republican push to cut them to help balance the budget.
Margaret Baptiste, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, just put out a statement urging senators to oppose a spending bill amendment that would freeze federal salaries. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., want to cover the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan war spending by eliminating expenses such as federal civilian raises and bonuses. Their proposal — as well as a House bill also targeting the 2011 raise — would not affect military service members. Baptiste said:
We believe it is wrong to single out federal workers for cuts that others serving our country are not being asked to make. More specifically, why would the Congress take a punitive action against the thousands of federal civilian employees who are working alongside their uniformed colleagues in Iraq and Afghanistan by requiring them to forgo a small salary increase to partially pay for the wars they are helping to win?
It’s also a mistake, Baptiste said, to think of the civil service as a cost burdening the nation instead of a resource to invest in:
Civil service pay and benefits have been a perennial target of budgeteers and “bureaucrats” have long been an easy “whipping boy” for voters. If we are to make wise choices about putting our fiscal house in order, members of Congress and the public need to be educated about the invaluable contributions made to our country by Americans who devote their careers to the public service.
The drive to strike the 2011 pay raise seems to be picking up steam. HR 5382, a bill sponsored by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., that would cancel the proposed 1.4 percent raise, is likely to come up for a vote tomorrow. A vote on the McCain and Coburn amendment hasn’t been scheduled yet, but also could come soon.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz, and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., today filed amendments to the Iraq and Afghanistan war supplemental spending bills that seek to offset its costs by cutting spending elsewhere — and feds aren’t going to like what they’ve got in mind.
McCain and Coburn want to save about $2.6 billion by freezing federal employees’ raises, bonuses and other salary increases for one year. This comes on the heels of their House counterparts’ move to put federal raises on the chopping block as part of their YouCut program.
They also seek to eliminate non-essential government travel ($10 billion over 10 years), collect unpaid taxes from federal employees ($3 billion), dispose of unneeded government property ($15 billion), reduce government printing and publishing costs ($4.4 billion over 10 years), eliminate bonuses for poor-performing government contractors ($8 billion over 10 years), and auction off unused and unneeded government equipment ($250 million over 10 years).
All in all, McCain and Coburn say the proposed cuts would cover $120 billion in war spending costs, although it’s worth noting that $33 billion of those savings would come over 10 years. But is the tax thing really fertile ground for finding new money? The IRS already levies feds’ salaries to recover those funds under the Federal Payment Levy Program, and apparently there’s a good bit of turnover on the list, which suggests tax-delinquent feds do eventually pay off their debts.
So feds, what do you think? Sound off below, or shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The House GOP’s YouCut program this week seeks to put next year’s proposed 1.4 percent civilian raise on the chopping block. And so far, it’s the top choice to be cut — House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., said today that 40 percent of the nearly 218,000 votes cast so far this week were in favor of eliminating the 2011 raise. (People must really want to keep those mohair subsidies.)
YouCut combines the democratic ideals of American Idol with the excitement of a Heritage Foundation seminar. Each week, Republicans propose five programs to be cut, and then let people vote online or via text message on which one they want to slash. The GOP then tries to force a vote on the cuts on the House floor, but lawmakers last week voted 240 to 177 to keep the first YouCut “winner,” the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program’s $2.5 billion emergency fund.
Cantor said the proposal to cut the 2011 raise could be brought to the House floor this week. Eliminating pay raises would save $2 billion next year and, if it is continued, $30 billion over the next decade, he said. ”This vote won’t be easy for everyone, but it is exactly the kind of choice we must begin to make to get us off the path towards financial ruin,” he said.
The proposal would not affect the military’s pay raise. The Obama adminstration wants to give service members a 1.4 percent raise, but some lawmakers want to bump it up to 1.9 percent.
This is sure to increase the political temperature surrounding federal raises, and may make it difficult for lawmakers to support pay parity, at the very least. What do you think about YouCut taking aim at federal salaries?
Video of Cantor after the jump: