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Seventeen House Democrats are asking conferees working to write a final version of a payroll tax cut extension to spare federal workers from a longer pay freeze than is already in place.
It's the latest installment in a larger debate about who should shoulder the burden of deficit reduction as lawmakers struggle to reach a deal.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led the charge in sending a letter Wednesday to members of the conference committee.
Joined by a handful of panel colleagues, including Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy, the letter asked conferees to oppose an additional one-year pay freeze for government workers that would follow the two-year pay freeze already in place.
Such a provision was included in the House-passed payroll tax cut extension bill in December. House Republicans' version of the bill also would impose a 1.5 percent increase in federal employees' retirement contributions over a three-year period and eliminate a Social Security supplement most federal workers receive.
Democrats argue that reductions in the federal workforce mean government employees are having to work harder than ever with fewer resources and shouldn't have to give up more.
"Given the critical role that federal workers play in making our government work for our citizens, and noting the significant sacrifices they have already made, we urge you to oppose any additional cuts to the pay or benefits of federal employees," the letter reads.
Some conferees — including Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, where many federal workers live — are supportive of the House Democrats' position.
After hearing earlier this month that President Barack Obama might soon ask Congress to approve a 0.5 percent across-the-board pay raise for federal civilian employees, Cardin said it would be "an acknowledgement that federal employees have made sufficient sacrifices to help solve our nation's fiscal problems."
Others, including Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), believe it's "too early to tell what ... proposals will work best," according to spokeswoman Mandi Critchfield.
Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee with jurisdiction over the federal workforce, said in a statement to Roll Call that it was appropriate to continue asking federal employees to receive slimmer paychecks and pay more into their own retirement funds.
"These are reasonable measures meant to ensure financial solvency of the federal government and protecting the job security of the remaining federal workforce," Ross said. "These measures are not an attack on the federal workforce, they are an attempt to bring the federal workforce, and government unions, back to reality."
Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said, "It's not surprising that House Democrats would, yet again, object to any effort to achieve savings for taxpayers from federal workforce reforms."
Paul M. Krawzak of CQ contributed to this report.