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Maryland Democrats and federal employee unions attacked a new proposal floated on Capitol Hill Thursday that would pay for continuing a payroll tax cut by extending a freeze on federal workers.

Sen. Ben Cardin sent a letter to Democratic Senate leaders this week asking them to reject any proposal that would shrink federal worker compensation. In the letter – also signed by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and six other Democrats – the lawmakers note that employees are already operating under a two-year pay freeze that began this year.

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"Federal employees are facing the same challenges as other middle-class families during this difficult economic time," the letter reads. "Yet, this sub-group of middle class workers is in danger of being singled out to offset a tax cut for all middle class Americans."

Cardin's push comes as House Republicans prepared to formally unveil a bill that would extend the expiring payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits in part by continuing the pay freeze on federal workers. A similar proposal failed in the Senate Thursday, with 76 senators – including 25 Republicans – opposed.

Maryland is home to 286,810 federal workers, according to the census, and 131,350 federal employees work in the state.

The American Federation of Government Employees, a union with members in Maryland, fired off a letter Thursday to every member of the House. The union estimates the two-year pay freeze already put in place by the Obama administration will trim the budget deficit by $60 billion.

The AFGE letter took aim at federal contractors, reiterating the union's support for a $200,000 salary cap on contractor employees.

"Contractors, naturally, complain about having to make the same sacrifices that are being made by working class and middle class federal employees," the letter read. "But if $200,000 is enough for cabinet secretaries, Nobel prize winning scientists at NIH and NASA, and other federal employee professionals…it's enough for the government's contractors, as well."

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