March 13, 2003

House panel orders cuts in benefits spending, pushes pay parity

By Tanya N. Ballard <>

The budget resolution passed by the House Budget Committee on Thursday proposed a $39.46 billion cut in spending on federal benefits programs over the next 10 years. The House panel also approved a provision supporting military-civilian pay parity.

In an effort to reduce the federal deficit, Budget Committee members directed House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., to cut costs by eliminating "waste, fraud and abuse in mandatory programs" under his jurisdiction. Most of the mandatory spending that falls under the Government Reform Committee's jurisdiction includes benefits programs for federal employees.

According to David Marin, a spokesman for the committee, the proposal calls for a reduction of $1.1 billion in fiscal 2004, but committee members are waiting for more information on the proposed budget cuts.

"We need clarification before we act," Marin said Thursday. "On its face, the request to find these savings would mean drastic cuts in benefits to federal employees, since that's the majority of mandatory spending under our committee's jurisdiction. We simply don't believe that that's what the Budget Committee or House leadership is looking for at the end of the day, not when we're fighting a war on terror at home and abroad. Chairman Davis is all for rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in government programs, but we're not going to find those things in employee retirement or disability payments."

The Budget Committee's plan mirrors a Congressional Budget Office report released Thursday. CBO recommended adopting a voucher system for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, setting the government's portion of premiums at a fixed dollar amount that would increase annually by the rate of inflation. Another proposal would reduce health benefits for retirees with relatively short federal careers.

Union leaders and other federal employee advocates expressed outrage at any proposal that would reduce federal retirement and health insurance programs.

"The Republican Party is going to pay for the president's tax cut on the backs of federal employees and retirees," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. "That is outrageous.

Hoyer, National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley, and American Federation of Government Employees National President Bobby Harnage all lamented the proposed cuts, contending they would undermine efforts to recruit and retain high-performing federal employees.

"This action clearly runs counter to ongoing efforts by some members of Congress and others, including NTEU, to not only put in place, but to beef up programs designed to help federal agencies recruit and retain the quality employees they need to serve the public," Kelley said. "Make no mistake about this: The government's human capital crisis is real, and it's only going to get much worse with actions like this."

The House and Senate Budget Committees both approved ‘sense of the Congress' provisions supporting military-civilian pay parity <"/pdfs/moran> for federal employees.

According to the House resolution's author, Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., the fiscal 2004 budget proposal <> would give military employees an average 4.1 percent pay raise next year while limiting the civil service to a 2 percent across-the-board pay raise <> in 2004. That is unacceptable, according to Moran.

"The congressman is certainly pleased that this amendment was adopted in a bipartisan agreement of his colleagues," said Moran spokesman Dan Drummond. "Clearly our men and women in the military deserve a pay raise and so do our men and women in the civil service. He looks forward to seeing the final budget resolution pass the full House."

The administration's separate pay raise proposals continue its trend of offering a larger pay raise to military personnel than to civil service employees. Several lawmakers have fought </dailyfed/0103/012303t3.htm> to keep civil service pay increases in line with those of the military.

"I am extremely pleased that the House and Senate Budget Committees approved resolutions calling for pay parity as another step in fighting for fair pay for federal employees," Hoyer said. "I intend to work with my congressional colleagues again this year to ensure that the principle of pay parity is followed and that civilian federal employees receive a fair pay adjustment