Republican backers of a measure that would tack a third year onto a pay freeze for civilian federal workers won enough Democratic votes to push the measure through the House on Wednesday.
The bill would extend through 2013 the moratorium on pay increases for government employees and Members of Congress.
The bill, considered under suspension of the rules, which bars amendments and requires a two-thirds majority for passage, was approved 309-117.
“They vote against this at their own peril,” Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) said of his Democratic colleagues, whose near-unified opposition threatened to derail the legislation.
President Barack Obama is expected to include a 0.5 percent increase for federal workers in his budget proposal set to be released Feb. 13.
Though they support freezing pay for Members of Congress, Democrats have maintained that the federal workforce should not have to shoulder more of the burden of deficit reduction.
“The Republican majority has yet to bring before this House a single bill that would require millionaires and billionaires to contribute more toward deficit reduction,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said. “Instead, they are preoccupied with taking money out of the pockets of middle-class public servants.”
Democrats also blasted Republicans for including the Congressional pay provision in the bill, calling it blatantly political.
“What we have here is a very clever political effort to have Members vote either for their pay or against their pay,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who urged his Caucus to vote against the bill.
In the end, 72 Democrats sided with the majority, and two Republicans voted “no.”
To demonstrate their resolve on one issue addressed by the bill, Democrats proposed bringing an alternative measure to the floor — a stand-alone bill that would freeze Members’ pay while leaving federal workers out of it.
“I would hope ... to bring that bill to the floor so that Members could express that, yes, we’re prepared to tighten our belt. But what we should not do is pretend that we’re going to balance the budget by undermining middle-class workers,” Hoyer said.
Republicans refused to bite.
At a time when everyone must make sacrifices, they said, the federal workforce should be no exception.
“We have been fortunate throughout our history to have talented and hardworking individuals who have chosen public service. Our appreciation for their service doesn’t bring a mandate to pay them above market rates with little regard given to their individual performance,” said Rep. Dennis Ross, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy. The Florida Republican managed the bill for the majority.
Republicans pointed to a recent Congressional Budget Office report showing that federal workers earn on average 16 percent more than their private-sector counterparts.
To counter the CBO study, Cummings cited a November report by the Federal Salary Council, a group of labor relations and pay experts and federal employee representatives, that said federal employee pay lagged 49 percent behind that of private-sector workers in 2010.
Some Senators are also interested in exploring a third-year pay freeze for federal employees.
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) on Tuesday indicated that he hoped to push an amendment to extend the freeze during debate this week on a bill that would crack down on insider trading by Members of Congress.