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Cummings warns of tough year for federal workers

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told a gathering of federal employees on Wednesday that he anticipates an "unprecedented and extremely damaging assault" on federal employees this year by the GOP-controlled Congress.

The Baltimore Democrat, speaking at an annual gathering of the National Treasury Employees Union, said he believes Republicans will pursue legislation to cut the overall size of the workforce, offset Defense funding increases with cuts to non-defense agencies and give top-level management more authority to fire employees at will.

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"I believe we will see an unprecedented and extremely damaging assault by congressional Republicans to reduce worker pay, gut their due process protections, and slash the benefits that they and their families rely on every single day," Cummings told NTEU members gathered in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.

"Congress needs to devote resources and attention to strengthening recruitment and retention in the federal government," he said.

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Cummings described a 1.3 percent raise called for in President Barack Obama's budget proposal this week as "far too low."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the new Republican chairman of the oversight committee, was less forceful in his defense of the workforce but nevertheless struck a conciliatory tone. The Utah lawmaker said he anticipates a series of investigations into federal management but that he wanted to "put behind us the demonization of the federal employees."

Chaffetz said he could support the idea of giving federal employees a raise and described talk of abolishing the Internal Revenue Service as "crazy." Conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas suggested abolishing the agency as part of broader tax reform.

"I'm trying to find that balance and bring balance back to where it hasn't been before," Chaffetz said in an apparent reference to his predecessor, California Rep. Darrell Issa.

Maryland is home to some 300,000 civilian federal employees -- about one-10th of the state's workforce.

Despite the serious thrust of his speech, Cummings was in rare comedic form. He said he was recently invited to speak at the unveiling of Issa's portrait, despite the famously rocky relationship between the two men. Cummings said he told Issa that his 88-year-old mother warned him not to get too angry at the former Republican chairman.

Why, Cummings asked?

"That man done made you famous," Cummings said his mother responded.

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