As closed-door congressional budget talks appear likely to drag into the weekend, federal workforce groups are warily watching for signals that a deal on a 2014 spending bill could entail higher employee pension contributions.
“I would take them very seriously,” said Bruce Moyer, counsel for the Federal-Postal Coalition, made up of some 31 unions and other organizations. Although influential Democratic lawmakers like House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland oppose any cuts to federal pay and benefits, “we take no final solace in the support that our champions have provided in the past,” Moyer said.
A House-Senate budget committee technically has until the end of next week to reach agreement, but the panel could unveil a deal within the next few days to allow House members to vote before leaving on a holiday break set to begin Dec. 14.
Exactly what is on the table is unclear, but one proposal involves hiking federal employees’ share of their pension contributions by 1.2 percentage points over three years.
For Federal Employees Retirement System participants, that would increase their contributions from 0.8 percent of salary to 2.0 percent. Civil Service Retirement System enrollees would eventually pay 8.2 percent of salary, compared to 7.0 percent today.
A spokesman for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., declined to discuss specific proposals. A spokesman for Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., did not return a phone call seeking comment.
If higher employee pension contributions are in the final package, opponents are hoping to block them in the Democratic-controlled Senate. In a Friday letter, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to reject any “further erosion in federal workers’ compensation or benefits.”
The joint budget committee was created as part of the settlement that ended the 16-day partial government shutdown in October. That agreement left agencies operating under a stopgap continuing resolution through mid-January.
As part of the job of replacing the CR with a full-year fiscal 2014 spending bill, the committee could also give agencies some relief from another round of sequester-related budget cuts scheduled to take effect next month.
According to sources cited earlier this week by Defense News, a sister publication of Federal Times, the committee is considering a two-year framework that would soften the sequester’s impact both in 2014 and 2015 for the Defense Department and other agencies.