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Cardin vows to stand with federal workers

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin told a large crowd of federal employees in Suitland on Friday that Maryland's congressional delegation will stand with them as Washington begins the process of looking for deep spending cuts under the new debt ceiling law.

"We're going to stand up and defend what you do every day," Cardin told employees at the U.S. Census Bureau headquarters. "We know the sacrifices that you've made. We know the abuse that you take."

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Federal employees have been a central target in the debates over budget cuts in recent months, with lawmakers of both parties suggesting the workforce might have to accept trims to their retirement and other benefits. Maryland is home to 286,810 federal workers, census data show.

Days after Congress approved an unpopular plan Tuesday to raise the debt ceiling through next year and cut about $1 trillion in spending over 10 years, Cardin and other lawmakers have fanned out to explain the plan to voters. Cardin, who is up for election in 2012, spoke with seniors about the debt deal earlier in the week.

"It's time to look at revenue," Cardin said, echoing a mantra Democrats used throughout the months long debt ceiling debate. "It's time to look at our mandatory spending. It's time to look at bringing our soldiers home...it's time to use those savings and to stop looking toward the federal workforce."

The new law calls for an initial round of cuts but also creates a 12-member, bipartisan panel that will be charged with finding a plan by November to reduce budget deficits by an additional $1.5 trillion. If that panel deadlocks, or Congress fails to accept its recommendations, then automatic cuts will kick in.

Either course -- either a compromise by the committee or the automatic cuts -- could leave federal workers vulnerable.

"Americans really appreciate what you do, they just have a hard time expressing it," Cardin told several hundred federal employees at the event, which was organized by several large public-sector unions, including the American Federation of Government Employees. "I can tell you when they get their Social Security check, they're happy...They just take our federal workforce for granted."

Cardin received a round of applause when he noted that the Senate on Friday voted to end the stalemate over the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration -- a move that will return some 4,000 federal employees to work after two weeks on furlough. Cardin presided over the Senate floor Friday during the pro-forma session in which the FAA legislation was passed.

Nick von Stein, a Census Bureau employee and a member of AFGE said after the event that he wants to see Washington do more to put people back to work -- not just federal employees but also private-sector workers.

"I think he's probably doing what he can, but I don't think there's really anybody out there that's really doing anything to try to get people back to work," von Stein said. "There was the stimulus and now there's nothing."

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