Keep federal pay freeze, benefits cuts, off sequestration bargaining table, lawmakers warn

Amid the threat of sequestration following the passage of President Donald Trump’s tax reform bill, a bloc of House Democrats has warned House leadership off freezing federal employees’ pay or reducing their benefits as a way to offset tax cuts.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), along with House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) led a coalition of 95 members in warning House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) not to use federal employees’ compensation as a bargaining chip, as Congress must decide where to make cuts in federal government spending following passage of the Republican-backed tax plan.

The anxiety around federal pay comes from the  Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010 (PAYGO), which would require these tax cuts to be offset by reductions in government spending. In a letter to Hoyer, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that Congress would need to reduce government spending by $150 billion annually over the next decade. If it failed to do so, CBO says Office of Management and Budget would be forced to order sequestration cuts.

“While we agree that a long-term bipartisan budget agreement to lift the devastating sequestration caps is necessary, to finance such an agreement on the backs of middle class federal employees who have dedicated their lives to serving our nation would be wrong under any circumstances,” the House members wrote in their letter, adding that a pay freeze or benefits reduction “would be a slap in the face to the hardworking Americans who care for our veterans, process our Social Security checks, and protect our national parks.”

The House letter comes a week after Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) issued a report, based on whistleblower documents, which claimed that the Trump administration was considering a pay freeze for federal employees in 2019.

Under the Obama administration, federal employees had their pay frozen in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

“Time and time again, they have been asked to sacrifice in the name of deficit reduction,” the House members wrote in their letter.

In May, President Donald Trump indicated in his full budget request his intention to set the 2018 pay raise for federal employees at 1.9 percent. In August, the president confirmed those levels when he announced a 1.4 percent average pay raise for most civilian federal employees, plus an additional 0.5 percent increase in locality pay.

Meanwhile, Congress has yet to address federal pay for 2018, although a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has called for parity between the pay raise members of the military are expected to receive and the raise that civilian employees would receive.

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