Federal Employee Pay Freeze on Tap or Not?

Watching the twists and turns of proposed legislation to cut taxes for some Americans gets confusing. The Senate passed a bill but it wasn’t the same bill that the House had passed. Some thought that a two-month extension put a temporary end to the controversy. That prediction was, perhaps, made too early to be true.

The tax cut extension legislation has been as unpredictable and tense as other government funding bills have been in recent months. As Democrats and Republicans wrangle over whether to cut some taxes, control government spending and how to make up the lost revenue for cuts that are made, the charges and counter charges from partisans have been filling the airwaves.

Saturday, the Senate passed a bill that approved a two-month extension of payroll-tax breaks and unemployment benefits. Some observers thought this meant the House would pass the Senate bill on Monday. But, as readers will recall, the House passed a different bill a few days ago – one that would add another year to the pay freeze for federal employees (See House Passes Pay Freeze Bill). The bill passed 89-10 on a Senate vote. But, despite the Senate action, Republicans in the House think it is a bad deal for the country and have argued against it in a conference call Saturday afternoon with House Speaker John Boehner (R.,Ohio).

The House bill, as amended by the Senate, did not contain the pay freeze for federal employees.

Those who were predicting a quick turn around after the Senate vote may have underestimated the strong desire on the part of some in the House to cut government spending. As some readers will recall, many of those elected last year won their House seat based on pledges to cut the rapidly increasing federal deficit.

The issue that brought them to the House in the 2010 elections has not been forgotten by many of these House members. As a result, House Speaker Boehner said Sunday that he opposes the Senate bill giving a two-month extension of payroll-tax breaks and unemployment benefits. His lack of support created doubts there will be a quick fix to the tax dispute.

Speaker Boehner said on a news program Sunday that “I believe two months is just kicking the can down the road.” He proposed a conference committee to work out the differences between the two bills rather than just passing the Senate version of the bill. The Speaker prefers a one-year extension of the tax cut bill so that businesses will be able to plan accordingly. He also thinks that an agreement can be reached in the next two weeks.

Of course, there are several issues that need to be resolved in addition to the length of the tax cut. These underlying issues are what is really holding up passage of the bill.

So, will there be a one-year extension of the federal employee pay freeze? 

No one knows. When agreement is reached, we will let our readers know as soon as possible.

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