9 Republicans now say they oppose proposed cuts to federal retirement

Nine House Republicans say they oppose proposals in the president’s fiscal 2018 budget request that would make significant changes to the federal retirement system for current and future employees and retirees.

Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.), who often come down in support of federal employees, were among the nine who wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). But seven others, including Reps. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Austin Scott (R-Ga.) also signed the June 17 letter.

“Our strongest objection is how the proposals break a promise to employees and retirees who have based career planning on longstanding promised benefit calculations,” members wrote. “They and their families don’t deserve to be treated in this cavalier manner.”

Their letter of opposition comes soon after 100 House Democrats wrote to Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and voiced their opposition.

Republican members say the budget proposals “single out” the federal workforce and would make it more difficult for agencies to recruit and retain top talent.

The president’s fiscal 2018 budget included four major changes to federal retirement:

  • An increase in employee contributions by 1 percent each year for the next six years,
  • An elimination of the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for current and future Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) participants and cutting the COLA by 0.5 percent for Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) participants of what the typical formula currently allows,
  • Basing future retirement benefits on the average of an employee’s highest five years of salary. Currently, retirement benefits are based on an employee’s length of service, salary and highest three-year average salary; and
  • Eliminate supplemental payments to employees who retire before age 62.

The administration sees these changes as a way to realize new cost savings — more than $4.1 billion in 2018 and at least $149 billion over the next 10 years — and bring the generous federal retirement package in line with the private sector.

But many of these budget proposals aren’t new, and they’re familiar to the nine Republicans who represent large numbers of federal employees and retirees.

“Recycling discredited proposals targeting federal workers is disruptive to them, and demoralizing to all middle-class civilian worker families,” members said.

The Republicans’ letter doesn’t go quite as far the Democrats. House Democrats specifically made it clear they would oppose any language that contained these changes to federal retirement and discouraged Ryan and Pelosi from bringing legislation with those proposals to the floor, while Republicans simply said they opposed the changes and wanted to voice their concerns.

But Republicans echoed many of the arguments that Democratic lawmakers and federal employee unions and groups had introduced: Three years of federal employee pay freezes, higher retirement contributions and furloughs have saved the government at least $182 billion since 2010.

“No one needs to remind us of the deficit and debt problem our nation faces, but federal employees are an easy political target,” members said. “In more ways than one, they have already repeatedly given at the office.”

The National Treasury Employees Union said it was pleased to see Republicans join their efforts to oppose the retirement proposals.

“We commend these House members for publicly standing with their constituents and other federal employees around the country who are tired of being singled out in the name of deficit reduction,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a statement. “Their letter puts House leadership on notice that any effort to slash federal salaries and pensions will be met with fierce, bipartisan resistance.”