Senate calls for federal workers to get same pay raise as military

Nonbinding resolution passes 94-6

House also addressing issue

February 25, 1999|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Several lawmakers are pressing to boost the pay of civilian federal employees more sharply next year than President Clinton has proposed, to match the raises that congressional leaders want to give to military employees.

By a 94-6 vote yesterday, the Senate passed a nonbinding resolution written by Sen. John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, stating that pay raises should be the same for all federal employees, whether or not they serve in the armed forces.

That resolution was triggered by another Warner proposal, also approved overwhelmingly by the Senate yesterday, to boost pay for the nation's 1.4 million military personnel by 4.8 percent as part of a package containing the largest military compensation increase in more than a decade.

Senate Republicans made the military compensation bill their first major act after Clinton's impeachment trial, saying they wanted to show support at a time when the United States is weighing intervention in Kosovo.

In his budget plan, Clinton proposed to give civilian and military employees the same 4.4 percent pay increase.

Warner persuaded a sizable majority of senators to support a greater increase for military personnel, arguing that their pay has consistently lagged behind private-sector salaries.

A nonpartisan congressional analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the larger military pay increases would cost roughly $200 million above the $2.25 billion sought by Clinton.

A 4.8 percent pay raise for civilian employees, she said, would require $300 million to $350 million above the administration's levels next year and more in future years.

"We're concerned about the bill that was passed by the Senate today," said Barry Toiv, a White House spokesman.

"It could cost substantially more than the administration has proposed and could drain critical resources for other defense programs. That said, the president has always supported parity between civilian and military pay increases."

Federal employee unions, longtime supporters of Clinton, have consistently complained to the administration about pay. In robust economic times, they argue, pay increases should make up for the skimpier raises they receive during leaner periods.

Some critics question whether federal employees should be entitled to larger increases next year, given today's low inflation rate, 1.7 percent annualized.

Others say the pay proposals would eat into the budget surpluses that the administration has earmarked for Social Security and other key programs.

"This is not a priority that ought to come out of the budget surplus or the taxpayers' hide," said Scott Hodge, a budget analyst for the conservative Citizens for a Sound Economy.

Some advocates of the pay increases say Clinton has been too stingy with all government employees.

"Both our uniformed and civilian personnel make a tremendous contribution to this country, and they have made great sacrifices in helping to balance the budget," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the senior Democrat on the House subcommittee that allocates money for the federal payroll.

"It is important and appropriate that we continue to follow the principle of comparability this year as well."

Hoyer has drafted a House resolution that echoes the Senate's.

Those who support identical civilian and military pay raises include Democratic Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore County, Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County, and Republican Reps. Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County and Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia.

As of 1997, the most recent year for which figures are available, 152,000 Marylanders were civilian federal employees, and 53,000 were uniformed military personnel.

A typical federal employee earning $54,000 this year who received a 4.8 percent increase would earn $56,592 in the next fiscal year. Under the lesser 4.4 percent increase, that employee would be paid $56,376, which is $216 less.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff say the pay issue is a paramount concern for them. The military chiefs say their personnel are, on average, paid 14 percent less than civilian workers.

The chiefs also blame poor pay for their difficulties in recruiting and retaining personnel.

Republican leaders and administration officials agreed this year to boost the pay of soldiers, fliers and other military personnel, about 25,000 of whom earn pay low enough for their families to qualify for food stamps and other assistance.

Pub Date: 2/25/99

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