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White House, lawmakers at odds over pay raise

February 25, 2015 (Photo Credit: Alex Wong/ / Getty Images)

Lawmakers and the White House continue to clash over the size of a potential federal pay raise for 2016 even as federal employee groups look to offset years of pay freezes.

President Obama is proposing a 1.3 percent pay raise for federal employees, slightly higher than the 1 percent federal employees received for fiscal 2015, but still low by historic standards.

Meanwhile, some prominent Republicans agree in principal to a federal pay raise, but have not said whether they agree with President Obama's proposed increase.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said most federal employees are good workers — and they deserve a pay raise.

He wouldn't say whether he agrees with President Obama's proposed 1.3 percent pay raise for 2016, but he did say federal employees should not lose ground as inflation erodes their salaries.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-VA., the chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee overseeing readiness and civilian employees, said he supports the idea of a pay raise for federal employees, but said he has not yet arrived at a number yet.

"I will be advocating to make sure we do all we can to support our federal employees," Wittman said. But he added that part of the raise might be merit-based instead of an inflationary cost-of-living adjustment.

But Democrats in the House and Senate are asking for a much higher pay raise — 3.8 percent in 2016 — to offset years of pay freezes and low raises.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D.-Va, and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, who introduced the bill in the House and the Senate, said the legislation will help feds keep pace with private-sector wage growth and help reduce attrition and boost morale.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; Elijah Cummings, D-Md.; Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.; and Donald Beyer, D-Va.

William Dougan, the president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said the legislation would make up for five years of pay freezes and small raises.

"In the last five years, federal employees have lost a significant amount of buying power due to pay adjustments failing to keep up with basic inflation," Dougan said. "As the cost of living increases for all Americans, federal employees have been left behind with stagnate wages."

The bill will also help close the growing pay disparity between federal employees and the private sector, which will help boost recruitment and retention, Dougan said.

However, President Obama does not need Congress for his proposed pay raise to become law.

The president has the authority to propose a pay raise for federal employees and members of the military if Congress does not pass a bill addressing the issue. However, Congress can still pass a bill freezing pay or enacting a higher pay raise.

The last time federal employees received a pay raise above 3 percent was in 2009, when feds got a 3.9 percent pay raise. That was followed by several years of pay freezes.

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