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updated: 2/15/2013 3:44 PM

House votes to extend pay freeze for government workers

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  • House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia walks Friday through the Capitol in Washington.

    House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia walks Friday through the Capitol in Washington.

Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON -- The House voted Friday to freeze the pay of federal government workers for the third consecutive year, a move majority Republicans said shows that lawmakers are serious about bringing down spending.

"We have to make tough choices," said Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "But let's remember these are civil servants who are paid pretty darn well."

The vote was 261-154, with 218 Republicans and 43 Democrats in favor; 10 Republicans and 144 Democrats voted against the freeze.

The bill would block a 0.5 percent raise scheduled to take effect in April, overturning a Dec. 27 executive order from President Barack Obama. The freeze wouldn't apply to military personnel. Lawmakers already froze their own pay through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

Keeping pay rates level would save roughly $11 billion over 10 years.

That's a small number compared with the big budget decisions just around the corner. The federal government is projected to run an $845 billion deficit this year, and more than $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, are to begin taking effect March 1.

Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican whose northern Virginia district includes the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, yelled on the House floor that the bill would target CIA officers who tracked Osama bin Laden, astronauts, Border Patrol agents, cancer researchers and nurses in Veterans Affairs hospitals who are treating wounded soldiers returning from Afghanistan.

"I recognize the good intentions of what the gentleman is trying to do," Wolf said of Issa, who led the debate. "It's not justice, it's not fair, and I urge a no vote."

Supporters said federal workers are overpaid compared with their private-sector counterparts. More than 21 percent of the federal workforce, nearly 443,000 people, earn more than $100,000 per year, Issa said on the House floor.

Wage and benefit comparisons between federal and private- sector employees vary depending on education levels, according to the Congressional Budget Office, which provides nonpartisan analysis of the federal budget and the economy to lawmakers.

Federal workers out-earn their private-sector counterparts with no college degree, a bachelor's degree or a master's degree, while private-sector wages and benefits are higher on average for those with professional or doctoral degrees, the CBO said in a 2012 study.

The bill now goes to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where its outcome is uncertain.

The White House opposes the bill.

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