Politics, Pay and the Federal Budget

There are a lot of reasons not to like the omnibus spending bill. Here are a few of the reasons it may not pass quickly.

Politics can quickly change. Before adjourning for the holiday season, it looked like a new bill to fund agencies for the current fiscal year that started on October 1st could quickly pass when the Senate goes back into session. But since early December, Congressional representatives have been talking to constituents, candidates have been campaigning, and much of the government has been operating on last year’s budget figures. Some politicians didn’t like what they heard from their constituents about the proposed spending bill.

The Senate returns to work today. One of the first orders of business will still be the omnibus spending bill for funding about $20 billion for a number of federal agencies. The bill also includes a provision to provide an additional pay raise for federal employees. Under the bill, most federal employees would get a pay raise of about 4.1 percent.

Most employees received a pay raise of about 2 percent effective in January.

But enough time has passed so that the spending bill is in trouble. Organized labor and farm groups are not happy with various provisions including changes in overtime pay requirements and labeling of food products.

On the other hand, some Republicans are not happy with the high level of spending in the bill.

That may be the basis for providing a compromise that enough Senators will support even if they don’t like the bill. Or, it could be controversial to the point of causing the entire bill to collapse.

One possibility for agencies is that the bill could be replaced by a shorter version that would fund agencies through September 30 (the end of the current fiscal year) at their current levels. This approach would save about $6 billion according to figures compiled by the Wall Street Journal.

Democratic candidates for president have been taking heat on the campaign trail. Some candidates don’t want to be known as “Washington insiders” that support the political establishment. To prove their independence, they don’t support the spending bill.

Tom Daschle, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate has political opposition in his home state and he also wants to show his independence and he is working to oppose the bill.

And Republicans have been criticized by constitutents for the various spending projects loaded in the bill when the Federal deficit is hitting record levels.

So what does this mean for you and your agency? No one can say with certainty what the final outcome will be. A form of “continuing resolution” is certainly a possibility. The federal pay raise could be a part of such a bill. That would, in turn, put more pressure on agencies that may have to come up with the money to fund the pay raise by cutting back on other expenses.

No one is publicly stating that federal employees will not receive the full 4.1 percent raise and it is still likely to go through. But don’t spend the money yet.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47