2-year budget deal would bring some good news to federal employees

Unlike previous two-year, bipartisan budget agreements, the Senate's latest deal does not use higher federal employee retirement contributions as an offset to a...

If the Senate’s bipartisan budget agreement passes Congress today, it will ease concerns for some federal employees, who have long feared that lawmakers would again would use their retirement benefits to offset significant spending increases in another two-year deal.

But the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released Wednesday night, includes no such offset. At 652 pages, the bill makes no mention of the federal workforce and its retirement system.

“With the release of a two-year budget deal, federal employees and retirees receive some much-needed relief,” National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association President Richard Thissen said Thursday morning in a statement. “Relief from the continuing threat of another government shutdown. Relief from austerity-level budget caps and the threat of sequestration. And most importantly, relief from knowing that their earned pay and benefits will not be targeted to pay for an increase in the budget caps.”

After all, Congress has used previous two-year, bipartisan budget deals to set higher federal employee contributions. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 required that new federal employees hired after 2013 contribute 4.4 percent toward their retirements.

“After federal employees contributed more than $120 billion in lost pay and benefits over the last several years, NARFE members have been diligent in sounding the drumbeat that federal employees’ and retirees’ earned benefits are not a piggy bank,” Thissen added. “Congress heeded their call, and no cuts to federal pay and benefits are included in the budget deal.”

The Senate was expected to vote on the budget legislation early Thursday afternoon, but votes have stalled.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 accomplishes a few long-awaited priorities.

First, the bill sets spending caps — $300 billion higher than current levels — for the next two years. It sets the spending limit for defense agencies at $629 billion in fiscal 2018 and $647 billion in fiscal 2019, while domestic agencies would be authorized to spend no more than $579 billion and $597 billion this year and the next.

But unlike previous two-year spending deals, the 2018 bill contains relatively few offsets, worth about $100 billion. Those offsets will come from higher customs, aviation security and certain immigration fees.

Second, it extends current funding for another six weeks to avert a government shutdown, giving lawmakers more time to appropriate to the newly negotiated spending caps.

Like the continuing resolution the House passed earlier this week, the Senate bill contains some funding for the Census Bureau to continue its work on the 2020 count. Specifically, the bill includes up to $182 million for the agency to “maintain the schedule and deliver the required data according to statutory deadlines in the 2020 Decennial Census Program,” the legislation said.

The legislation would also temporarily extend the debt ceiling through March 1, 2019.

The budget bill also includes a significant disaster relief package for hurricane-stricken Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, to the tune of $89 billion. California, where wildfires ravaged the state for several months in 2017, will also receive some relief.

According to the legislation, many agencies will receive additional funding “for necessary expenses related to the consequences of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and wildfires occurring in calendar year 2017.

The General Services Administration, for example, would receive nearly $127 million to repair federal buildings impacted by recent disasters and for other “real property management” activities.

In addition, the budget act exempts overtime hours, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency may have already paid to employees who contributed to disaster relief work in 2017, from annual overtime payment limits.

The White House added its support for the budget deal, praising the additional funding for the Defense Department.

“At the same time, it is critical that the Congress work to decrease non-defense spending in other areas to reduce America’s growing national debt,” the Office of Management and Budget wrote in a statement of administrative policy. “The Bipartisan Budget Act provided non-defense discretionary spending levels higher than the administration deems necessary. Additionally, although the Bipartisan Budget Act does include some spending reductions, the administration has proposed hundreds of billions of dollars in additional spending reductions that the Congress should also enact without delay in order to improve our fiscal state.”

The president is expected to release his fiscal 2019 budget proposal, which may contain some of those spending reductions, Monday.

This story will be updated. 

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