WASHINGTON — Like the warm-up before a big game, both sides in the battle of the budget are getting ready. And federal employees have a lot at stake in the outcome.
The team in red, the Republicans, support cuts to federal retiree benefits as one way to close the gap between Uncle Sam’s spending and his income.
The team in blue, the Democrats, say the federal workforce has already paid enough, over and over again.
So as the Budget Conference Committee, set up to resolve differences in House and Senate spending plans, prepares to resume meeting next week, members of both parties are setting markers letting everyone know what they believe is acceptable and what is not.
Two Republican congressmen offered legislation this week that would reverse scheduled cuts to national security in part by sacrificing some federal retiree benefits.
Reps. Jim Bridenstine, Okla., and Doug Lamborn, Colo., propose increasing federal employees’ contribution toward their retirement program from 0.8 percent to 2.0 percent of pay over three years. They also would eliminate the Federal Employee Retirement System Annuity Supplement for new employees and provide a more conservative formula, called the chained CPI, for the calculation of inflation-adjusted retirement benefits.
This would amount to taking $20 billion from federal workers. It’s a long-standing GOP strategy, but this time, the Republicans are using the Democratic Obama administration as cover.
“Our bill cancels national security sequestration for two years by enacting a few Obama-endorsed reforms that will actually produce over $300 billion in savings over 10 years,” Lamborn said. “Two-thirds of the savings will go toward debt reduction.”
Evidently attempting to secure bipartisan support, the pair made a point of noting in statements from their offices that “the bill only enacts reforms proposed by President Obama in his FY2014 budget request.”
But that’s not a persuasive argument for any supporters of federal workers. In a letter sent Wednesday to conference committee leaders, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said the panel should “reach a deal that acknowledges the value of federal employees … and rejecting draconian proposals to require federal employees to pay substantially more for their retirement. For example, the proposal in the House Budget Resolution to require federal employees to pay 5.5 percent more for retirement is unacceptable. … Federal employees have been undervalued and underappreciated for too long.”
In a show of union unity, the presidents of the two largest federal labor organizations — the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union — will hold a joint news briefing this week to denounce plans to make federal workers pay more for retirement.
“Thus far, the federal workforce has contributed $114 billion toward deficit reduction and economic recovery — far more than any other group in America has been asked to sacrifice,” said a statement from the unions. “Enough is enough.”