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House panel unveils continuing resolution that extends pay freeze

Sep. 11, 2012 - 10:17AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY and JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
If approved by both chambers, the continuing resolution unveiled Sept. 10 would fund all federal activities through March 27.
If approved by both chambers, the continuing resolution unveiled Sept. 10 would fund all federal activities through March 27. ()

The House Appropriations Committee unveiled a stopgap spending measure Sept. 10 that would freeze federal employees’ pay scales and continue funding the government at current levels for six more months.

If approved by both chambers, the spending measure would fund all federal activities through March 27. It appears unlikely Congress will approve most annual spending measures either before Election Day or during a November-December lame-duck session.

Federal employees’ pay scales would be frozen throughout the six-month CR, as President Obama requested last month. Feds’ pay scales have not been increased for two years, and unions have denounced the plan to extend the pay freeze even further.

The National Treasury Employees Union said Sept. 11 that it plans to push Congress and the White House to make next year’s pay raise — whenever it is passed — retroactive to Jan. 1. The CR would allow a pay raise to take effect only after Congress passes a budget, and it would not be retroactive.

NTEU President Colleen Kelley called the pay freeze extension “disappointing,” and said NTEU will press Congress to increase funding for agencies — especially the Internal Revenue Service.

“While it appears that the CR will be passed and a government shutdown threat will be averted, the funding levels set for federal agencies are inadequate in the long term, particularly for the Internal Revenue Service,” Kelley said.

American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox has also pledged to push for a retroactive raise.

The proposed continuing resolution adheres to an agreement between congressional leaders and the White House for a governmentwide $26.6 billion cut to discretionary accounts from fiscal 2011 levels.

The House CR would fund the Pentagon at current levels and provide $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan and other ongoing global operations, according to an Appropriations Committee statement.

The $1.047 trillion bill would add 0.6 percent to 2012’s spending levels. The House Appropriations Committee said those small increases “are needed to prevent catastrophic, irreversible, or detrimental changes to government programs, or to ensure good government and program oversight.”

Those increases include:

• An unspecified amount of money to allow Customs and Border Protection to maintain its current levels of CBP officers, Border Patrol agents, and air and marine interdiction agents.

• Nearly $2.2 billion for the Veterans Benefits Administration — a 7 percent increase over 2012 levels, and what the Obama administration requested. The committee said this will help VBA handle an increase in the disability claims workload.

• More than $749 million for the Interior Department’s firefighting programs, a 50 percent increase from 2012’s $484 million budget, and what the Obama administration requested. Interior would also get another $23 million to repay other accounts that were tapped in 2012 to pay for wildfire suppression. Interior’s 2012 wildfire budget was cut from $720 million in 2011.

• The Forest Service would also get nearly $2 billion for its wildfire budget next year, and another $400 million to reimburse other accounts that paid for wildfire suppression in 2012, giving it a total of nearly $2.4 billion. The Forest Service had a wildfire budget of nearly $2.3 billion in 2012.

The GOP-controlled panel also included in the measure language that would release “additional funding for nuclear weapons modernization efforts, to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile.”

Some congressional Republicans question whether the Obama administration is abiding by a deal on nuclear funding under which the White House agreed to modernize some existing atomic weapons.

As the political climate in Washington in recent years has turned bitterly partisan, lawmakers have used the often-loathed continuing resolutions to keep the federal government operating.

The panel’s chairman, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., and its ranking Democrat, Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington state, both panned the use of CRs.

Rogers acknowledged in a statement that “this bill essentially punts on the core duty of Congress to complete its annual appropriations and budget work.”

“I can’t stress enough how important it is that Congress return to consider regular appropriations bills,” Dicks said in his own statement. “A continuing resolution does not provide the guidance federal programs need to operate effectively.”

Pentagon officials and defense industry executives say the use of stopgap measures hinders their ability to properly run programs and make business decisions.

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