Public Sector Roundup: House to Vote on Bill to Extend Federal Pay Freeze

The House is preparing to vote as early as Feb. 15 on legislation (H.R. 273) that would freeze federal pay for the remainder of calendar year 2013, following a Feb. 14 vote on a resolution (H. Res. 66) providing for the consideration of H.R. 273 (this is Congress, after all).

H.R. 273 was introduced Jan. 13 by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and originally slated for action on the House floor during the week of Jan. 21. It would overturn a December 2012 executive order from President Obama that in the absence of congressional action would give federal employees a 0.5 percent across-the-board pay hike effective March 27, the expiration date for the six-month continuing resolution (H.J. Res. 117) currently funding the federal government.

In a statement of administration policy issued Feb. 13, the White House said it opposes H.R. 273. "This extension would mean that Federal civilian employees' across-the-board pay freeze would last for a third consecutive year," the statement said. It noted that the 0.5 percent pay increase proposed by Obama would end a two-year pay freeze for federal employees called for by the president himself in late 2010. The pay freeze applies to the annual cost-of-living adjustments provided to federal employees in January, but not to step increases, bonuses, or promotions, which also would be allowed to continue under H.R. 273.

A Feb. 13 House Rules Committee hearing on H.R. 273 featured a number of congressional witnesses, including DeSantis. Democrats and Republicans disagreed not only on the substance of the bill, with most Democrats opposed and most Republicans in favor, but also on the process through which the measure is making its way to the House floor. Democrats and some Republicans wondered why H.R. 273 was not being subjected to the usual legislative process, which generally would involve hearings and a markup in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Although the bill is likely to be approved by the House, there is very little chance that the Senate will even consider it. However, federal employees should keep a close eye on Congress, where Republicans and Democrats eventually will be forced to negotiate over either preventing or stopping sequestration--the steep federal spending cuts set to take effect beginning March 1 in the absence of congressional action. A pay freeze for the rest of 2013 also could make its way into a multi-agency spending bill or continuing resolution to keep the federal government running after March 27.


In other public sector news:

  • Danny Werfel, federal controller at the White House Office of Management and Budget, warned in a news briefing of "devastating" cuts to federal agency spending if sequestration is allowed to take effect as scheduled March 1. The automatic spending cuts called for by the sequestration process under the 2011 Budget Control Act were "never intended to be implemented," he said.
  •  Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) introduced legislation in the House (H.R. 593) and the Senate (S. 263) to offset the potential impact of sequestration, particularly on the Defense Department, by cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition.
  • Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) proposed a $28.4 billion fiscal year 2014 spending plan that anticipates $175 million in savings from changes in the state's two public employee pension systems.
  • In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) used his annual State of the State Address to draw attention to the need to reduce the state's $97 billion unfunded pension liability, voicing support for legislation (S.B. 1) to overhaul the state's public pension systems.