Federal payroll deal passes, Maryland delegation split

Eight of Maryland’s 10 members of Congress voted against a bi-partisan plan Friday to extend a national payroll tax holiday – including two who were instrumental in crafting the deal – citing concern over how the measure would affect federal employees.

The only Maryland Democrat to support the measure, which ultimately passed both chambers, was Baltimore County Rep.C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. The deal was also supported by Republican Rep.Roscoe G. Bartlett, who said he almost changed his vote.

The final vote left Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, both Democrats, in opposition to a deal they helped broker as members of the 20-lawmaker conference committee that was tasked to find middle ground on the issue. The measure passed the House 293-132 and was approved in the Senate 60-36.

“It was really poking federal employees in the eye,”Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who voted no, said after the vote. Mikulski said she is also concerned that roughly $100 billion of the bill is not paid for and that long-term revenues were used for short-term expenses.

The bill, which has also faced criticism from public employee unions, would collect $15 billion over the next decade by requiring civilian employees hired after this year to chip in 3.1 percent of their pay to their retirement instead of the current 0.8 percent. Current employees would not be affected.

Ruppersberger, whose district includes the National Security Agency, stressed that no current employees would be affected by the higher contribution rate and he also noted that millions of Americans would benefit from the tax break and extended jobless benefits.

The break amounts to roughly $1,000 for someone earning $50,000 a year.

"The bill will boost the paychecks of every working American and it will help the unemployed get back on their feet," he said. Ruppersberger said he "looks forward to a political climate" in which Congress could reverse the higher rate to ensure that federal agencies can be competitive in its hiring.

His Democratic colleagues, though, were sharply critical.

“I think it’s just wrong,” said Cardin, who along with Van Hollen, said they had softened the blow of the hit on federal employees as part of the behind-closed-doors negotiations leading up to the vote. “I think there is a resolve that we’re not going to use federal employees as a way to fund our ideas or bills around here.”

In the House, Bartlett said that he “almost went up to change my vote. It was such a difficult vote.” He argued that the cost of extending the various provisions called for in the bill is unsustainable. The state’s other Republican, Rep. Andy Harris, voted against the bill.

“I just think it’s quite unfair,” Rep.Elijah E. Cummings said after the vote. Federal employees “should not have to carry the burden of providing benefits with regard to the extension of payroll, or whatever it might be…The question is, where does it end?”

Van Hollen, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said his no vote was intended to send “a message that enough is enough.”

Maryland is home to nearly 300,000 civilian federal employees — about 10 percent of the state's workforce, according to U.S. Census figures. Several federal agencies, including Social Security, the National Institutes of Health and the Census Bureau are based in the state.

The legislation, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign, would extend a 2 percentage point reduction of the payroll tax, first passed in 2010, for the rest of the year. It would also extend long-term unemployment benefits and the payments the government makes to doctors to treat Medicare patients.

No votes:

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D

Sen. Ben Cardin, D

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D

Rep. John Sarbanes, D

Rep. Andy Harris, R

Rep. Donna Edwards, D

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D   


Yes votes:

Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R

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