Senate could cut raise for U.S. workers in half


WASHINGTON -- Federal workers' pay raises could be hundreds of dollars smaller next year if congressional negotiators agree to a lower salary increase approved by the Senate this week.

Congressional conferees will meet as early as next week to merge two competing pay raise proposals.

The House plan, strongly backed by federal worker unions, could result in a salary increase of more than 3 percent for Baltimore-area workers. The Senate plan, approved Wednesday, proposes a raise half that size.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, both Maryland Democrats, say they plan to fight for the higher pay raise in the conference.

The raise is included in a fiscal 1995 spending bill for the Treasury Department, the U.S. Postal Service and other federal agencies.

Last month, the House proposed a 2 percent national pay increase plus a small rise in locality pay, a sum that aims to close the gap between federal workers' salaries and private-sector wages. Nationwide, the average raise under the House plan would be about 2.6 percent, congressional sources say, but the locality pay adjustment for Baltimore would increase that sum to more than 3 percent.

In Maryland, nearly 300,000 people work for the federal government. The average white-collar federal employee in Baltimore earns $37,926, so the House raise could mean an extra $1,130 a year.

The Senate raise would increase paychecks by just $606. These numbers are based on tentative government figures and could change slightly once government salary surveys are completed later this summer.

The Senate approved the lower pay raise in a 72-27 vote Wednesday, with the support of both Maryland senators.

Sen. Dennis DeConcini, an Arizona Democrat who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees federal worker pay issues, said yesterday that he sought the lower raise because there was no money for a bigger one. But he said he wants to compromise -- so long as the conferees can find the money for it.

"I believe the federal employees should have a raise and we gave them a 1.6 [percent] raise, but it was budgeted," Mr. DeConcini said. "The addition is not budgeted, but I think we can find it."

The conferees need to come up with an additional $700 million to fund the higher pay raise, which would cost $1.8 billion nationwide.

The higher House figure has the qualified support of the Clinton administration, although President Clinton originally sought the lower sum just approved by the Senate.

Mr. Hoyer, chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service and General Government, hammered out an agreement for the higher House figure last month in meetings with Leon E. Panetta, director of the Office of Management and Budget. Yesterday, an OMB spokesman, Barry Toiv, indicated that the administration would back the House raise.

Mr. Toiv said the administration wants equal raises for military and civilian workers -- and he added that military workers are likely to receive a salary increase on par with the higher House figure.

Federal worker unions, meanwhile, were still furious yesterday over the Senate effort to slash the pay raise.

Sheila Velazco, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, criticized the administration for allowing the Senate to approve a lower pay raise.

"I think that, yes, they have not been as aggressive as they should have been," she said. "Everybody has dropped the ball . . . Congress and the administration."

John Sturdivant, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said he plans to meet with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) to add firepower to the union's fight. Mr. Sturdivant suggested that the DSCC, which raises funds to re-elect Senate Democrats, cannot count on labor support unless Democratic senators secure the pay raise.

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