The House of Representatives voted Friday to block a half-percent pay raise ordered by President Barack Obama for federal employees, the latest move by GOP lawmakers to trim budget deficits by attempting to cut the size of the government.
The proposal, which was approved on a 261-154 vote, would save $11 billion by continuing a two-year-old pay freeze for federal workers through the end of the year. The outcome of the pay dispute will affect about 300,000 federal workers who live in Maryland.
Senate Democrats are unlikely to pass the legislation as is, but House Republican leaders are eager to signal that the federal workforce will be a target for reductions as Washington approaches deadlines to fund the government next year and avoid deep automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.
House Democrats from Maryland and Virginia unanimously opposed the bill — as did four Republicans from Virginia. Both states have heavy concentrations of federal workers and are home to federal agencies.
Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland's only House Republican, supported the proposal.
"At a time when our country faces a national debt of over $16 trillion, giving federal employees an automatic pay increase does not make sense," the Cockeysville lawmaker said. "Hardworking taxpayers all over Maryland are having to cut back and prioritize their budgets, so government needs to cut back as well."
The legislation comes in response to an executive order signed Dec. 27 by Obama that would allow a 0.5 percent raise following a government-wide pay freeze that began in 2010. If the Senate does not act on legislation, the pay increase would take effect at the end of March.
The Obama administration has said it opposes the legislation but stopped short of threatening to veto it.
"Using our federal workforce as a political punching bag is not only fundamentally unfair, but it is also supremely unwise because it undermines the government's ability to operate efficiently," said Rep. John Sarbanes, a Baltimore County Democrat. "Republicans vote over and over again to gouge our public servants."
Lawmakers have until the end of the month to strike a deal to avoid $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that would take place under sequestration. Separately, the stopgap budget funding the government runs out in March. Either or both fixes could include cuts to the federal workforce.
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