GOP Budget: Higher Pension Contributions for Feds, Much Lower Spending for Civilian Agencies

GOP Budget: Higher Pension Contributions for Feds, Much Lower Spending for Civilian Agencies

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., and other Republican members of the House Budget Committee release the 2016 plan.
Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., and other Republican members of the House Budget Committee release the 2016 plan. Cliff Owen/AP

House Republicans have once again called on federal employees to contribute more to their retirement, bringing back the effective pay cut in their fiscal 2016 budget blueprint.

Following the precedent set by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who no longer sits on the House Budget Committee, new Chairman Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., included a pension contribution hike for feds as part of the $5.5 trillion in total savings the budget proposed over the next 10 years.

“In keeping with a recommendation from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, this budget calls for federal employees—including members of Congress and congressional staff—to make greater contributions toward their own retirement,” thelegislative text stated.

While the plan did not specify exactly how much pension contributions would increase, the commission on fiscal responsibility – known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission – recommended “gradually” increasing federal civilian pensions “so that new federal employees ultimately pay about one-half the cost of their pensions, and existing federal employees pay one-quarter.”

A Budget Committee spokesman confirmed that the 50-50 split would amount to a 6.35 percent contribution level from feds, the same level Ryan’s budget recommended last year.

Congress has already raised the pension contribution level for newer employees twice in recent years, creating a three-tiered system in which employees pay between 0.8 percent and 4.4 percent of their paychecks toward their defined benefit, depending when they were hired.

More broadly, Price’s budget would officially maintain the across-the-board spending levels mandated by sequestration, but it would still boost Defense spending above the levels in President Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget request, through the use of additional funding in the Overseas Contingency Operations account technically reserved for emergency spending.

The plan did not spell out specific cuts to the federal workforce, but the cuts to non-defense agency budgets would likely result in hiring freezes and job losses. The plan would cut non-Defense funding by $759 billion below sequestration caps by 2025.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said the Republican proposal represented the “same old, same old,” and it was “not a serious budget.”

Van Hollen said the blueprint would “wreak havoc with the services that civil servants provide to Americans across the country.”  On the proposed increase to pension contributions, he added, “This is just a huge hit on hardworking federal employees.”

Asked whether the Republican budget moved the needle closer to a sequestration avoiding compromise similar to the one agreed to in 2013 by Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Democrats’ House Budget point man said it was more of a step backward. He went on to lament it was “too early to say” if the framework was a step forward for resuming regular order in the budget and appropriations process, and staving off the specter of a government shutdown in September.

The American Federation of Government Employees slammed the proposal, saying Republicans are “slashing the compensation and jobs of hard-working federal employees.”

“Federal employees aren’t some faceless bureaucrats to be cut at a whim,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox, in a statement. “They are real people with real jobs who make a real difference in the lives of millions Americans every day…They deserve our respect and admiration, not the contempt and derision being presented in this budget.”

The plan did note that the embattled Veterans Affairs Department would receive sufficient funding. Republicans also promised to maintain their tight oversight of the agency.

“We will continue to closely monitor the VA to make sure they are accountable and transparent in their work,” Price wrote.

The resolution identified areas of redundancy and called on agencies to reduce waste and increase accountability. Price added the overall, governmentwide funding cuts were simply a necessary rollback of unfettered growth in recent years.

“These reductions are hardly draconian,” Price said. “Washington cannot keep spending money it does not have.”

To further reduce spending to reach a balanced budget in 10 years, House Republicans also proposed significant cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, creating a premium support system for Medicare and block grants for Medicaid.

The military would not be completely exempt from cuts, either. While overall Defense spending would rise under the Republican plan, the blueprint still proposed reductions to compensation for military personnel and retirees. Price embraced therecommendations made by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission earlier this year. The reforms, Price said, are “vital to sustaining the long-term fiscal health” of the military benefits.

“Under current law, if personnel compensation costs continue to grow as expected, they will inevitably crowd out critical defense spending on readiness and procurement,” Price wrote.

Senate Republicans plan to release their own budget Wednesday, and both chambers plan to vote on passage next week. Specific spending levels will then be determined during the annual appropriations process.

Congress Staves Off Government Shutdown…for Now

Congress Staves Off Government Shutdown…for Now

Gary Blakeley / Shutterstock.com
The Senate on Thursday easily passed a short-term spending bill, clearing the way for the government to avoid a shutdown until at least mid-December.

The Senate’s passage by a vote of 73-22 follows the House approving on Wednesday the $1.01 trillion stopgap measure — which funds agencies at their current spending levels through Dec. 11. The stopgap measure will now head to President Obama, who has indicated he will sign it.

“The administration appreciates that the House bill allows critical government functions to operate without interruption and avoids a damaging government shutdown,” the White House wrote in a statement of administration policy.

Federal employee advocates also expressed support for the continuing resolution, but said the short-term nature of the bill makes it difficult for agencies to carry out their missions.

“As we have seen over the past several years, a series of short-term, patchwork funding solutions are becoming the norm rather than the exception,” said the Federal-Postal Coalition, an amalgamation of more than 30 federal workforce groups. “Continuing resolutions tie the hands of managers and employees alike by limiting strategic planning and restricting resources to get the job done.”

In some respects, however, the CR was good news for federal workers. The stopgap bill is mum on President Obama’s request to grant federal employees a 1 percent, across-the-board pay raise in 2015, effectively allowing the pay bump to go through. Congress, which is set to recess this week until after the upcoming November election, will aim to pass an omnibus appropriations bill when it returns. Lawmakers could theoretically block the pay raise at that time, though they have yet to show any interest in doing so.

The CR will extend the charter of the Export-Import Bank — set to expire Sept. 30 — through June 2015. Bank officials said they would not have been forced to shut their doors come Oct. 1 in the absence of congressional action, but the agency’s 400 employees would have been out of a job when its portfolio reached maturity.

The Obama administration offered tepid praise for the Ex-Im provision.

“While the administration acknowledges that the bill reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank, the administration encourages the Congress to pass a long-term extension to provide certainty to job-creators that export U.S.-made products and services,” the White House said.

The CR also includes a boost in funding for the Veterans Affairs Department to investigate potential impropriety in manipulating waitlist data and retaliating against whistleblowers. It would increase appropriations to reduce VA’s disability claims backlog and allow Customs and Border Protection the flexibility to move funds around so it can maintain current workforce levels.

The measure avoids more controversial provisions, such as addressing the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to close 82 facilities nationwide in 2015. A majority of senators and 160 House representatives wrote to their respective appropriations committees asking that any spending bill delay closures for one year.

Per Obama’s direct request, the spending bill includes language authorizing the training and arming of moderate opposition against the radical Islamic group ISIS.

(Image via Gary Blakeley / Shutterstock.com)

Bill to Avoid Shutdown on Track for Passage This Week

Bill to Avoid Shutdown on Track for Passage This Week

Flickr user Rich Renomeron

A spending bill to keep government agencies open appears poised to clear Congress this week, though the final iteration of the measure remains unclear.

Lawmakers in the House debated the continuing resolution, which would fund agencies and avoid a government shutdown until Dec. 11, at length on Tuesday, with members of both parties agreeing the stopgap measure was poor practice but unfortunately necessary. The legislators took considerable time — an unusual six hours — to debate President Obama’s request to authorize further military strikes and opposition training and arming to “degrade and destroy” the radical Islamist group ISIS.

House leadership anticipated a vote on both the military request, which is being offered as an amendment to the spending bill by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and the CR itself on Wednesday. The Senate would then vote on the measure on Thursday before it leaves Washington, D.C., in advance of the upcoming November election.

House Republicans said on Tuesday passage of Obama’s military request would require the support of at least some Democrats, many of whom have expressed reservations about authorizing airstrikes and more Americans on the ground in Iraq. The underlying shutdown averting bill has encountered little resistance, however.

“We should not and cannot continue to fall back on short-term spending bills like this one,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., author of the $1.01 trillion bill, on the House floor Tuesday. He added the lack of regular order in appropriations causes “uncertainty within our federal agencies and economy,” but that “at this time though, the best way to avoid serious damage to this country is to pass this continuing resolution.”

So far the House has passed seven of the 12 spending bills necessary to issue line-by-line appropriations at each agency, while the Senate has passed none. Rogers blamed Senate Democrats for necessitating the stopgap measure.

The stopgap bill is mum on Obama’s request to grant federal employees a 1 percent, across-the-board raise in 2015, effectively allowing the pay bump to go through. Congress would aim to pass an omnibus appropriations bill after the midterms. Lawmakers could theoretically block the pay raise at that time, though they have yet to show any interest in doing so.

If passed, the CR would extend the charter of the Export-Import Bank — set to expire Sept. 30 — through June 2015. While Bank officials said they would not have been forced to shut their doors come Oct. 1 in the absence of congressional action, the agency’s 400 employees would have been out of a job when its portfolio reached maturity.

The CR also includes a boost in funding for the Veterans Affairs Department to investigate potential impropriety in manipulating waitlist data and retaliating against whistleblowers. It would increase appropriations for VA to reduce its disability claims backlog and allow Customs and Border Protection the flexibility to move funds around so it can maintain its current workforce levels.

The measure avoids more controversial provisions, such as addressing the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to close 82 facilities nationwide in 2015. A majority of senators and 160 House representatives wrote to their respective appropriations committees asking that any spending bill delay closures for one year.

(Image via Flickr user Rich Renomeron)

Dems weigh shutdown strategy

Dems weigh shutdown strategy

By Mike Lillis and Scott Wong – 09/10/14 01:02 PM EDT

House Democratic leaders are in wait-and-see mode Wednesday as they weigh their approach to a Republican proposal to prevent a government shutdown at the end of the month.

Unveiled Tuesday night, the GOP’s continuing resolution (CR) would fund the federal government at current levels through Dec. 11, but a number of conservatives are balking at both the timeline and a provision extending the charter of the Export-Import Bank, which helps finance the export of U.S. products.

Heritage Action, an influential conservative group, is urging lawmakers to oppose the CR over the Ex-Im provision.

If enough Republicans defect, Democratic votes would be crucial to the measure’s passage, which gives the party leverage in the debate.

Democratic leaders so far haven’t said whether they’ll urge their members to oppose the government-funding measure, but in recent days they’ve called for a five-year extension of the bank’s charter.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) has predicted his measure will pass, but he faces a wild card in Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has suggested the Republicans use the must-pass CR to attach conservative amendments on immigration.

Cruz huddled Tuesday night with some House conservatives. Roll Call reported that the lawmakers meeting with Cruz want the CR to extend funding until March of next year, when they think Republicans will control the Senate.

Another moving piece surrounds the White House request for congressional authority to “to train and equip” Syrian rebels battling both the Syrian government and militants representing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Democrats want to include the language in the CR, but Republicans are reportedly opposed to that notion.

White House officials are scheduled to meet with leaders from both parties on that issue Wednesday afternoon.

Some Democrats said they believed their party would go along with reauthorizing the bank in the short-term.

“I think they’ll support kicking the can down the road,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the former Homeland Security Committee chairman, in an interview as he emerged from a Democratic conference meeting.

And Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he didn’t anticipate any hang-ups with the Ex-Im issue. “The Speaker has already made clear he supports an extension,” Durbin told The Hill.

Democrats said Republicans would be foolish to shut down the government and follow Cruz over the cliff again, he said.

“He is predictable, often inscrutable, determined and inspires his Tea Party members,” Durbin said. “If Sen. Cruz would like to remind America of his shutdown of the government eight weeks before the election, be my guest.”

Shutdown-Averting Spending Bill Would Allow Fed Pay Raise

Shutdown-Averting Spending Bill Would Allow Fed Pay Raise

Orhan Cam/Shutterstock.com

When it comes to the federal employee pay raise, no news is good news.

And that is exactly what feds received from House Republicans in the spending bill introduced Tuesday evening to keep government open past Sept. 30. The $1.01 trillion continuing resolution makes no mention of the raise, meaning it would allow President Obama’s 1 percent, across-the-board 2015 pay bump to go into effect.

If approved, the spending measure would avoid a government shutdown through Dec. 11, when Congress would aim to pass an omnibus appropriations bill for the remainder of fiscal 2015. Lawmakers could theoretically block the pay raise at that time, though they have yet to show any interest in doing so.

The bill, authored by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., maintains current spending levels for the rest of the calendar year. The House plans to vote on the measure on Thursday.

Lawmakers are desperate to avoid any appropriations lapse in the run up to the November midterm elections. While Rogers hailed the bill as a “clean” CR that simply continues the spending levels awarded to federal agencies for fiscal 2014, final passage is still subject to more controversial measures getting attached to it. In response to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, calling for the continuing resolution to end President Obama’s authority to defer deportations of undocumented residents, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said such a movement could block a bill.

“They have every right to do whatever they want legislatively,” Reid said on Tuesday. “If they want to be the lead team of shutting down the government, that’s what they’re going to have to do.”

While Rogers said his bill “does not seek to change existing federal policies,” the measure does contain some provisions necessary to confront current crises and “ensure good government.”

In a major coup for the White House, House Republicans agreed to extend the charter of the Export-Import Bank — set to expire Sept. 30 — until June 2015. While Bank officials said they would not have been forced to shut their doors come Oct. 1 in the absence of congressional action, the agency’s 400 employees would have been out of a job when its portfolio reached maturity.

The CR also includes a boost in funding for the Veterans Affairs Department to investigate potential impropriety in manipulating waitlist data and retaliating against whistleblowers. It also increases appropriations for VA to reduce its disability claims backlog.

While Cruz and some conservative Republicans are pushing for the bill to address larger immigration policy, Rogers’ bill simply allows Customs and Border Protection the flexibility to move funds around so it can maintain its current workforce levels. 

In another victory for the Obama administration, the bill fully funds the White House’s $88 million request to research and fight the spread of Ebola. The measure avoids more controversial provisions, such as addressing the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to close 82 facilities in 2015 across the country. A majority of senators, including Reid and members of both parties, wrote to the Senate Appropriations committee asking that any spending bill delay closures for one year.

Rogers said he expects the stopgap measure to reach Obama’s desk without much resistance.

“We have reached the point where a continuing resolution is necessary to keep the government functioning and avoid another shutdown,” he said.  “It is a critical piece of legislation, and my committee has crafted the bill in a responsible, restrained way that should draw wide support in the House and Senate.”

(Image via Orhan Cam/Shutterstock.com)