House Republican plan seeks end to ‘automatic’ federal pay raises, cut workforce benefits

Several House Republicans are calling on their colleagues to push for cuts to federal employees’ pay and benefits, as lawmakers advance spending bills for fiscal 2024.

Leaders of the Republican Study Committee, in a 2024 budget proposal, are advocating for legislation that would bring back the Trump administration’s executive orders that made it easier for agencies to fire federal employees, and rolled back the collective bargaining rights of federal unions.

The RSC budget proposal outlines hundreds of billions of dollars in potential cuts to federal employees’ benefits over the next decade. In total, lawmakers are looking at a $16 trillion reduction in overall federal spending over the next 10 years.

RSC Chairman Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) and Budget and Spending Task Force Chairman Ben Cline (R-Va.) led 12 other House Republicans in signing onto the budget proposal. The RSC counts about three-quarters of current House Republicans as members.

“While cutting spending is difficult, most Americans would support those actions rather than continue with Biden’s inflation crisis and higher interest rates,” the proposal states.

Few of the RSC proposals are likely to make it through a Democratic majority in the Senate, or into a final spending deal for the upcoming fiscal year.

But the budget document doubles down on a commitment by House Republican leaders to eliminate “unnecessary” federal programs and encourages lawmakers to seek steeper spending cuts for fiscal 2024 than what was outlined in a bipartisan debt ceiling deal.

“The RSC Budget is more than just a financial statement. It is a statement of priorities,” lawmakers wrote in the RSC proposal.

The Biden administration and congressional Republicans reached a deal to cap nondefense, discretionary spending at current levels for FY 2024, and to limit spending increases in FY 2025, in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling and avoiding a first-ever government default.

But Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee have advanced fiscal 2024 spending bills that scale some agency budgets back down to FY 2022 spending levels.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Tuesday that the Biden administration expects Congress to “abide by the bipartisan budget agreement that both sides came to the table for.”

Bills to fast-track firing federal employees

The RSC budget request supports several legislative proposals that would make it easier for agencies to fire federal employees, stating that “it has become virtually impossible to remove most federal employees.”

“The biggest losers in this system are hardworking taxpayers who are forced to subsidize the bloated salaries of unqualified and unelected bureaucrats working to force a liberal agenda on a country that does not want it,” the report states.

President Joe Biden, on his first day in office, repealed several executive orders from former President Donald Trump that limited collective bargaining, cut official time and made it easier to fire and discipline federal employees.

But the RSC budget endorses the Union Accountability Act, introduced by Hern, which would block Biden’s repeal of Trump’s executive orders.

The RSC budget proposal also endorses the MERIT Act from Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), which would shorten the timeframe necessary to remove federal employees accused of misconduct or poor performance.

Federal employees under the MERIT Act would retain the right to appeal an adverse personnel decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board, but the MERIT Act would cap the appeal decision window to 30 days.

The RSC budget also endorsed Hern’s HERCULES Act. Among its proposals, the bill would limit federal employees to filing a workplace grievance with only one of the following authorities — the MSPB, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the Office of Special Counsel or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Lawmakers are also supporting two bills from former Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) that would eliminate federal employees’ use of official time, and would require the Office of Personnel Management to report to Congress on all agency personnel conducting union duties at work.

Republicans are also targeting federal employee pay and benefits, claiming that federal employees are paid 17% more than their private-sector counterparts, when benefits are included.

Biden administration leaders reached a different conclusion last December, and determined that federal workers earned 24.09% less in wages alone than non-federal colleagues — a larger gap than what was reported the prior year.

The RSC budget committee said it supports legislation that would eliminate “automatic raises for federal employees,” and that any raise received by federal employees should be merit-based. The report estimates this would save taxpayers $57 billion over the next decade.

Biden is proposing a 5.2% pay raise for federal employees in fiscal 2024.

Republican lawmakers are also looking to scale back the scope of bonuses that federal executives receive, and ensure that agencies only award bonuses when employees meet the standard for “exceeds fully successful” in their performance evaluations.

The RSC also proposes rolling back federal paid leave policies “to match the value of benefits paid by the private sector.” Lawmakers estimate this would save $75 billion over 10 years.

Proposed cuts to federal health care, retirement benefits

The RSC budget proposal also seeks to rein in federal employees’ health care and retirement benefits.

The RSC budget report states federal employees’ current compensation framework “largely ignores the more efficient compensation approach used in the private sector.”

“Congress should reform the federal pay scale to attract and reward high skilled, highly productive federal workers, and stop overpaying less qualified employees,” the document states.

The RSC budget proposes basing a federal retiree’s benefits based on the highest five years of their earnings — instead of the current calculation of the highest three years — and reducing or eliminating cost of living adjustments for retirees under both the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS).

The RSC document also proposes barring new federal employees from enrolling in the defined benefit pension system under FERS. Instead, lawmakers proposed new federal employees saving up for retirement entirely through the Thrift Savings Plan.

Lawmakers are also calling on federal employees to contribute more to their own health insurance coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program.

The RSC plan proposes the federal government pay a flat rate as their contribution to federal employees’ health insurance coverage, leaving employees to cover the difference if they opt for a more expensive health plan.

“This option would encourage employees to purchase plans with the appropriate amount of coverage that fits their needs. The government should also reduce its contributions to federal workers’ premiums to align with the private sector more closely,” the plan states.

The RSC budget plan would also bar new federal employees from receiving health coverage from FEHB once they’ve retired.

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