Senate Democrats blocked a GOP-backed bill for the second time that would freeze federal pay for three more years in order to offset an extension of the payroll tax cut. The Democrats’ own plan to pay for the extension with a surtax on the income of millionaires was also voted down.
Heller’s proposal, which was voted down the first time only a few days after it was introduced, would have extended the federal pay freeze for three additional years — federal employees are now in the middle of an administration-backed two-year freeze — and cut the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition.
The extended pay freeze drew the ire of federal-employee unions, who lobbied lawmakers ahead of the most recent vote.
The National Treasury Employees Union issued letters to every member of the Senate, according to an NTEU release, and the union’s president Colleen Kelley called the proposal “ill-advised” and said it unfairly targeted federal employees.
Kelley said that the current pay freeze will already leave a $60 billion dent over 10 years in the federal deficit and that many older federal workers don’t even qualify for the payroll tax cut because they pay into a different pension system.
“It is outrageous to propose paying for a tax cut for middle-class workers by singling out a small group of working Americans-federal employees — while continuing to shield the wealthiest from bearing even a small sacrifice,” she said in a statement.
For his part, Heller, the author of the pay-freeze legislation, lamented the fact that Congress couldn’t come together on what he called “a workable solution.”
“Moving forward, I hope Congress can find a way to extend this payroll tax cut to help hard-working Americans,” he stated in a release.
The Senate vote on the pay freeze measure was 76-22 — not that far removed from the 78-20 outcome, last week. The Associated Press reported there was little suspense about the bill’s fate because, given the partisan divide in Congress, any plan will require the unlikely scenario of a filibuster-proof 60 votes to advance.
The House is set to vote on its version of a payroll tax cut extension — which has become the latest example of congressional gridlock — next week.
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 8-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.