Members of Maryland's congressional delegation and two public employee unions lashed out at a Republican Senate proposal Wednesday that would pay for an extension of President Barack Obama's payroll tax cut by continuing a pay freeze on federal employees.
The idea, originally included in a report last year by a bipartisan deficit-reduction panel appointed by Obama, calls for a three-year pay freeze for federal workers as well as cutting the government workforce by 10 percent, or about 200,000. Federal workers are already operating under a two-year pay freeze that began this year.
"The Republicans are saying, let's take it out on our federal workforce," Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said on MSNBC Wednesday.
Bipartisan legislation approved last year cut the payroll tax for employees to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent. Obama proposed cutting the rate again to 3.1 percent in a jobs package unveiled earlier this year. The original cut will expire next month if Congress does not act.
The Senate is headed toward a vote as early as Thursday on the Democratic plan to extend the tax cut and pay for it with a 3.25 percent surtax on income over $1 million a year. But that idea has failed to gather traction with Republicans in either chamber.
"The President and Democrats in Congress are saying we ought to recoup the revenue we won't get from one group of taxpayers by socking it to another group, a significant number of whom happen to be employers," Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said on the floor. "Think about that: The Democrats' response to the jobs crisis we're in right now is to raise taxes on those who create jobs."
Republicans say their own proposal would generate $111 billion to pay for the payroll tax cut, but it met with sharp resistance from Maryland Democrats on Wednesday. The state is home to 286,810 federal workers. Social Security, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Security Agency are among the many agencies based in the state.
"The Republican payroll tax proposal represents another cynical ploy to single out federal employees for unfair treatment," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Montgomery County lawmaker who is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. "The financial collapse and weak economy were not caused by the men and women who serve the federal government, and they should not be forced to shoulder the entire burden of the cost of recovery."
Several public employee unions who have members in Maryland agreed.
"We made our sacrifice," Jacqueline Simon, policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, said in an interview, referring to the current pay freeze.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, argued that federal agencies are already struggling to provide services to the public.
"The Democrats propose paying for the payroll tax cut with a small tax increase on millionaires, while the Republicans propose paying for it by extending a pay freeze already in its second year for middle class federal workers," she said.
The proposal is not likely to advance in the Democratic-led Senate, but it is the latest example in a series of measures floated to cut the nation's spiraling deficit by freezing salaries or benefits for federal workers. Republicans on Wednesday were quick to note that the idea was not their own, but rather came from the so-called Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission created by Obama last year.
Though both Democrats and Republicans have argued that the Simpson-Bowles recommendations are a good start, neither party has fully embraced its ideas.