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.
During his four-year tenure as the panel’s chairman, Ryan laid out several blueprints for the government’s budget. They attempted to eliminate the federal deficit, which meant draconian cuts to federal agencies’ spending levels. It also meant direct attacks on federal employees, including proposals for: a 10 percent cut in the size of the workforce, higher retirement pension contribution levels, the elimination of the annuity supplement for certain young federal retirees and the end of student loan repayment for federal employees.
Ryan’s budget proposals twice passed the House, but were held up in the Senate. That could all change with Republicans taking control of the upper chamber. While Ryan has moved on to the position of the House’s top tax man, his ideas linger over the congressional budget committees. His successor, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., and the Senate budget leader, Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., will bring separate proposals forward next week. Both are expected to seek a balanced budget by 2025.
“A balanced budget is essential for strong economic growth and job creation,” Enzi said at a hearing this week. “Working together, we can deliver real solutions, real results and real progress if we find common ground and cooperate to get things done.”
He added: “Over the past six years, we have learned that wasteful Washington spending doesn’t solve problems, it only side-steps them. By spending responsibly and putting our fiscal books in order in a balanced and responsible way, we can restore the trust that we have broken with the American people.”
Enzi’s ranking member, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said this will likely spell a rehash of old ideas.
The Republican budget will look “a heck of a lot” like Ryan’s proposals, Sanders said at a press conference this week. A spokesman for Enzi declined to comment on which federal workforce provisions will be included in the senator’s plan.
The resurfacing of Ryan’s budget priorities would not come as a surprise to federal employees, with unions warning after the midterm election its return could squeeze the workforce at time when its responsibilities are growing.
Not everyone thought it was a good idea to balance the budget on the backs of federal workers. Mark Blyth, a professor of political economy at Brown University, told Enzi’s committee in prepared testimony at this week’s hearing that funding feds can help spark the economy:
Now consider a government employee whose income is generated by taxes, taxes that also bought the Apple Computer that she uses to process a [National Institutes of Health] grant that goes to a researcher at a state university. That researcher, funded by the federal government, goes on to invent a molecule that the pharmaceutical industry buys and turns into a major new therapy. Yet we tend to see this as ‘unproductive spending.’ Yet what is the difference between the two, especially when that same federal worker goes to the supermarket and shops with her government paycheck at the end of the week, and spends more than our heroic author? Does that not add to the economy either? Somehow we seem to think not.
Democrats pledged to inject their priorities into the plan by offering amendments. Former Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she hopes to build off of the two-year agreement she reached with Ryan in 2013. That measure partially rolled back sequestration cuts, though it also required new feds to pay more into their retirements.
“Hopefully it won’t take another government shutdown for Republicans to join us,” Murray warned.
The Republican-controlled House this week approved a bill that would impose additional red tape on federal regulators, the people normally dispensing the tape.
The measure, which passed on Tuesday with support from eight Democrats, would require agencies to adopt the least-costly regulations considered during rule-making, with limited exceptions.
The proposal would also add more than 74 new requirements to the rule-making process, many of which would require regulators to carefully document whether they answered questions such as:
* Have you considered the alternative of no federal response?
* Have you considered whether this rule would contribute to the very problem you’re trying to address?
* Are you legally authorized to propose a rule in this situation?
* Have you considered the benefits of alternative rules?
Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement last week that the measure would “rein in excessive regulatory costs.”
Although the bill passed the house, it is unclear whether the new Republican-controlled Senate will bother to vote on it, especially after the White House threatened to veto the measure on Monday.
The White House said in a statement that the proposal would “impose unprecedented and unnecessary procedural requirements on agencies that would prevent them from efficiently performing their statutory responsibilities” and “create needless regulatory uncertainty.”
The legislation’s supporters have brushed off that thinking, saying the bill would only give the government a taste of its own medicine.
“We feel your pain,” Dan Danner, chief executive of the National Federation of Independent Business, said in a statement this week. “It shouldn’t be easy for the government to make life harder for small businesses and individual citizens.”
If passed, the bill would hinder some of the Obama administration’s biggest regulatory efforts, including plans to implement stricter carbon-emissions standards and a proposal to reclassify Internet providers as public utilities.
In order to overcome a presidential veto, Congress would need to pass the legislation with a two-thirds vote, or supermajority, after Obama rejects it. Republicans do not have enough seats in the House or Senate to accomplish that feat on their own.
By Paul Kane January 15 at 12:55 PM
HERSHEY, Pa. – Congressional Republicans are engaged an intensive day of reflection and preparation for their first session with majority control at both ends of the Capitol in eight years.
In a rare joint retreat together at America’s favorite chocolate-infused resort town, House and Senate Republicans are working their way through a series of panel discussions trying to iron out their differences in both politics and policy.
With the 2016 presidential race quickly taking shape, a large contingent of Republicans are pushing a conservative agenda that isn’t too sharply edged, hoping to set the stage for their eventual White House nominee.
But there’s a smaller — but more-vocal — bloc that wants to press the most conservative agenda possible, arguing that by demonstrating their principles Republicans can best position themselves for longer term victories. Continue reading “GOP lawmakers retreat to Hershey in a search for common ground”