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Federal Workers May Soon Contribute More to Pensions

Federal workers would have to contribute more of their wages to their retirement benefits under a plan advanced today by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Along party lines, the panel voted 22-16 on a bill aimed at streamlining pensions and retirement benefits of federal employees, Congressional staffers and Members of Congress.

The aim is to bring government workers more in line with those in the private sector and push the federal workforce to help reduce the deficit.

“We don’t do that lightly,” committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said, particularly in reference to how the changes would affect lawmakers and staff, “but in recognition to the fact that we … have had a different field for a long time.

“Americans want us to live under the same laws and benefits,” he added.

Democrats said they had no problem slashing their own pensions. However, they would not do the same to their staffs or employees of government agencies.

Ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said the bill would be damaging to federal employees who, by the time legislation is enacted, will have already been subject to a two-year pay freeze.

Cummings and his Democratic colleagues also accused the Republican-led committee of continuing “a disturbing assault on our federal workforce.”

“It is a sad day when the leadership of the Oversight and [Government] Reform Committee most closely resembles a wrecking crew which will not rest until it has torn what should be the world’s model civil service,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said.

Republicans rejected Cummings’ and other committee Democrats’ characterizations.

“My bill is not in one bit about beating up federal employees or even Members of Congress,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.). “It is about living in the real world” where, he said, the government did not have enough money to float a generous retirement system.

Issa added that overhauling the system now would help the federal government recruit and retain employees in future generations, contrary to Democrats’ arguments that such changes would make the government an unattractive employer.

The bill would establish a new pension formula at the start of 2013 requiring everyone to pay more toward their benefits.

Current federal employees will be somewhat grandfathered into the new system, as they would only be required to pay 1.5 percent above the .8 percent they currently pay into their pension plans out of their pay stubs.

Employees and lawmakers entering service for the first time, however, will be forced to pay 4 percent of their paychecks toward retirement money.

Members and Congressional staff, Issa said, would see their long-term benefits slashed almost in half.

Democrats sought adoption of a number of amendments aimed at making the bill more palatable. One in particular, offered by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Ma.) — ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy, which Ross chairs — would bar the bill from going into effect during a federal workforce pay freeze.

Cummings put forth two amendments that would exempt from the pension formula recalculations all employees receiving salaries below certain thresholds: $100,000 and $30,000.

Along with other proposals, these were rejected along party lines.

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