WASHINGTON -- Two Maryland lawmakers cheered the approval yesterday of federal worker buyout legislation by a House-Senate panel, but they voiced concerns about a potential Senate filibuster by opponents.
As in separate House and Senate versions of the buyout bill, the compromise measure would allow federal agencies to offer as much as $25,000 to an employee who resigned or retired early. But it ignores a Senate-backed provision to earmark the estimated $22 billion in payroll savings for pay for the Senate crime bill.
The compromise, drafted by House and Senate conferees in one day, now goes to the full House for a vote as early as today.
"I hope there won't be any filibustering, but there might be," said Rep. Constance A. Morella, R-8th, who helped write the compromise. "It's always possible with that body and its divisive filibustering."
"I've been told there's a threat of a filibuster," echoed Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th. "I take it seriously."
The buyout bill is part of the Clinton administration's National Performance Review to downsize the federal work force by 252,000 employees over the next five years. And the anticipated savings from buyouts is one of the selling points of the effort to reinvent government.
But the administration's effort is in danger because some senators insist on earmarking the savings for anti-crime programs.
"The White House has an enormous stake in this bill because the National Performance Review is over if the buyouts don't occur," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. "It's simply over."
Without buyouts, reductions-in-force (RIFs) are likely. While RIFs will trim the ranks of the federal work force, lawmakers say layoffs are more likely to hit younger, lower-ranked employees. The administration says it is trying to do just the opposite, targeting older, middle managers.
Concerning a filibuster, several lawmakers said the strongest warnings came from Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and William V. Roth, R-Del. Mr. Stevens could not be reached for comment, but Mr. Roth said a political tempest was brewing in the Senate.
"The action taken by the conference . . . will further impede the passage of this important right-sizing tool," said Mr. Roth, who authored the provision that would earmark savings for anti-crime programs. "The result is that the outlook for two bills -- this bill and the crime bill -- have now been made more cloudy."
Mr. Roth has said he is willing to give up the anti-crime trust fund if the savings from reducing the federal payroll are reserved for deficit reduction instead, an idea flatly rejected by Rep. William Clay, D-Mo., chairman of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee.
Some House members called the threat of a filibuster politics of obstruction.
"It is a political gesture, not a substantive gesture, to filibuster this bill," Mr. Hoyer said. "Both houses know the trust fund will be in the crime bill. It's simply political posturing to make yourself look tough on crime."
"I'm still hopeful something will happen where maybe the money will go to deficit reduction," Mrs. Morella said.