- By Kellie Lunney; January 22, 2013
This story has been updated.
The House will not consider a bill this week that extends the pay freeze for civilian government workers, allowing some time for federal employee advocates to continue their crusade against the measure.
The chamber scheduled a vote on H.R. 273 for Wednesday, but has decided to postpone its consideration, and instead move on legislation that would withhold congressional pay if lawmakers fail to pass a budget in the next few months. “We are now voting on the No Budget No Pay bill tomorrow,” said Megan Whittemore, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
The No Budget No Pay measure (H.R. 325) would authorize a temporary suspension of the current debt limit of $16.4 trillion through May 18, allowing the government to continue borrowing to pay its obligations until then. A provision in the legislation would prohibit lawmakers from getting paid if Congress fails to pass a budget by April 15. Salaries would be held in escrow until lawmakers passed a budget; if Congress fails to do so, then salaries would resume in January 2015, the end of the current congressional session.
“We must pass our bills and responsibly budget for our future,” Cantor said last week.
The White House offered half-hearted support for the temporary measure to avoid a government default, saying it would prefer “a long-term increase in the debt limit that would increase certainty and economic stability,” according to an administration statement. White House spokesman Jay Carney said during a Tuesday press briefing that the president would “not stand in the way” of the bill if it reaches him.
There is some dispute over whether the provision regarding congressional compensation passes muster. The 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits a sitting Congress from increasing or decreasing its own pay, although it can change the pay of future legislative bodies. It’s unclear whether the current language of the bill regarding holding pay in escrow circumvents the amendment.
The public apparently favors docking the pay of Congress and the president for failing to balance the budget. A whopping 81 percent of voters believe lawmakers should take a 25 percent pay cut until the federal budget is balanced, according to a new survey from Rasmussen Reports.
Forty-six percent of voters said the president should take a 50 percent pay cut until the budget is balanced, while 37 percent don’t believe a salary reduction is necessary, the survey showed.
The poll, conducted this past weekend, also asked respondents about federal pensions. Fifty-nine percent of the 1,000 respondents said lawmakers should not receive a pension when they leave office, while 23 percent were in favor of giving them that benefit. The sentiment over whether the president should receive a pension after leaving office was more divided: 40 percent said they believed the president should receive a pension, while 48 percent said he should not.
This week’s floor schedule change in the House buys time for those opposed to legislation introduced last week that would extend the current pay freeze for civilian federal employees through the end of the year. President Obama issued an executive order on Dec. 27, 2012, that would end the two-year salary freeze on March 27 — when the current continuing resolution expires — and give civilian federal workers a 0.5 percent raise in 2013.
The pay freeze extension bill, sponsored by Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., also applies to lawmakers, but Congress already voted to freeze its pay in 2013 in the fiscal cliff legislation signed into law earlier this month.
It’s not clear when the House might take up the DeSantis bill. The House leadership was keen to vote on the bill quickly, so it’s likely to come up again sooner rather than later.