Filibuster threatened over federal worker buyout bill


WASHINGTON -- The threat of a filibuster that could delay or doom federal employee buyout legislation arose yesterday after House and Senate negotiators rejected efforts to tie the reduction of the federal payroll to anti-crime legislation or deficit reduction.

Democratic negotiators ignored last week's votes in the House and Senate to use for anti-crime legislation the $22 billion that would be saved over five years by buying out 252,000 federal workers. They also rejected a Republican compromise that would have set aside the buyout savings for reducing the deficit.

Yesterday's action came in a House-Senate conference HTC committee, which approved a bill to give federal agencies the authority to offer employees up to $25,000 to resign or retire early.

With no buyouts to encourage voluntary departures, the agencies will be forced to lay off some employees before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, proponents of the legislation say.

The Office of Personnel Management has already ordered the layoffs of about 500 employees. Estimates vary as to how many other federal workers will lose their jobs if buyout legislation is not adopted soon.

Advocates of the legislation say that buyouts will be cheaper than layoffs. They also argue that agencies have less control over who is laid off than over who takes buyouts. In addition, they say that young workers -- and more minorities -- will be affected by the layoffs.

The bill now goes back to the House and Senate for final approval. The House is expected to accept the conference committee's action today or tomorrow. The Senate would then take up the bill.

If a filibuster occurs as expected, final approval would be delayed, if not jeopardized.

Arguing yesterday for earmarking the $22 billion savings for deficit reduction or anti-crime legislation, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska predicted a filibuster when the bill, stripped of those provisions, goes back to the Senate.

But Rep. William L. Clay Sr., a Missouri Democrat who led the House delegation to the conference, rejected efforts to tie the buyout to anti-crime legislation or deficit reduction.

"We think this is an inappropriate vehicle," he said, adding that the anti-crime trust fund should be considered as part of the package of crime legislation.

Rep. Constance A. Morella of Maryland, one of the House negotiators, argued against the anti-crime trust fund, saying that the reduction of the federal work force should not be tied to hiring 100,000 new police officers, one of the goals of the crime legislation. "We should not be taking from one to give to another."

But the Montgomery County Republican, who represents many of the 287,000 Marylanders who work for the federal government, said that she did support earmarking the $22 billion for deficit reduction.

Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland, who has been pressing for the adoption of buyout legislation, said he did not know how many senators were committed to a filibuster. But he and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, another Democrat, said there is wide agreement in Congress that buyouts are preferable to layoffs.

"The question is whether they will want to hold the buyout bill hostage and thereby jeopardize" the effort to avoid layoffs, Mr. Sarbanes said of the Republicans threatening a filibuster.

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