In the final stretch of negotiations, Congressional Democrats are waging a last-minute behind-the-scenes battle on the payroll conference committee to supplant a cut to federal worker pensions, according to aides on both sides with knowledge of the talks.
The negotiation is the remaining issue holding up a deal for the conference committee.
Conferees Sen. Benjamin Cardin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen have teamed with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer to demand that a cut to federal worker pensions be replaced with a cut to federal worker pay. The cut would be used to partially pay for an extension of unemployment insurance benefits.
All three Members are Maryland Democrats and represent numerous federal workers, and Cardin is up for re-election in 2012.
“We’re still working on the details; there are a lot of conversations happening,” Van Hollen said this evening.
Hoyer unleashed a fiery tirade against the measure in a closed-door House Democratic Caucus meeting earlier today, according to a source in the room. The Members have publicly said throughout the process that they believe federal workers have already paid their fair share to offset the deficit.
Asked this afternoon whether he could ask his Members to vote for a measure that cuts government worker pensions, Hoyer said, “I’ve got to find out exactly what it is before I tell them anything.”
The Democratic proposal mirrors President Barack Obama’s call for a 0.5 percent cost-of-living increase for federal workers in 2013, down from a 1.7 percent increase. Savings would accrue over 10 years.
A GOP aide said the Democratic counterproposal is not acceptable because it does not have an immediate effect.
While House Republican conferees have all said they are ready to sign an agreement, House Democrats have demurred.
Conferee Rep. Xavier Becerra declined to talk specifically about the situation but noted that Democrats are unhappy about the offsets.
“I’m not interested in hurting middle-class workers, regardless of where they work, to help other middle-class workers. It seems to me that’s a wash,” the California Democrat said. “We’ve always said to our Republican colleagues, to the degree we have to come up with pay-fors, they should be common-sense pay-fors, and ultimately what the pay-fors are going to be ... that’s the reason why you haven’t seen [a deal]. That’s still part of the discussions.”
The talks to remove the federal worker pension cuts have serious implications on the leaders’ ability to report the package out of the conference committee.