WASHINGTON – For the second year in a row, Congress left town for the holidays without completing action on a spending bill that includes a 4.1 percent pay raise for federal workers.
But, like last year, federal workers can still look forward to a little something extra in their paychecks after the first of the year, even though Congress is not scheduled to come back until late January.
Beginning with the “first full pay period beginning on or after Jan. 1,” civilian workers will get the 2 percent raise that President Bush included in his fiscal 2004 budget request, said Mike Orenstein, a spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management. That pay period starts Jan. 11.
If Congress later approves the 4.1 percent raise that is included in House and Senate version of an omnibus spending bill, federal workers will get the 2.1 percent difference in back pay. Just like they did earlier this year.
“Employees received retroactive adjustments (for fiscal 2003),” Orenstein said. “If it plays out as it did last year, it would work much the same way.”
But some workers’ unions said they were disappointed with the prospect of a temporary, partial raise.
“This situation could’ve been avoided if the president had used his authority to implement the 4.1 percent pay raise now,” said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. “Then we would not have to deal with the retroactive question or even the administrative work that it will take to make that happen.”
But Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, said it would be irresponsible for Bush to approve the raise ahead of time.
“The fiscally responsible thing to do in an environment of half-trillion dollar deficits is to work on the side of caution,” Sepp said. “To start out with 2 percent and say, ‘Let’s have some serious consideration before we go any higher,’ seems a prudent step to many taxpayers.”
Both the House and Senate approved the raise in their own versions of the Transportation and Treasury budget bill, but the bill stalled between chambers. It was wrapped into an omnibus spending bill that included six other fiscal 2004 budget bills: Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-State, District of Columbia, Foreign Operations, Labor-Health and Human Services-Education and Veterans Administration-Housing and Urban Development.
The House passed the omnibus Monday but Senate Democrats, angry about language omitted from the bill, blocked its passage.
Six Maryland lawmakers voted against the bill in the House and two — Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, and Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo — supported it.
Wynn said in a prepared statement that he voted for the bill largely because it “contained over $111 million in funding . . . for projects critical to the 4th Congressional District” that he represents.
“While there are some flaws in this bill, there are many positive aspects as well,” said Wynn, who added that the bill’s “unappealing provisions were outweighed by much-needed funding for federal agencies and local projects for the 4th District.”
While he agreed that there were good elements, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, did not think there were enough for him to vote for the omnibus.
“Though I voted against this bill for unrelated provisions, I believe that it was imperative that we provide federal employees . . . a fair pay raise to reward them for their dedication to serving and protecting our country,” he said in a printed statement.
Other Maryland lawmakers voting against the bill were Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Frederick and Democratic Reps. Benjamin Cardin and Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Cockeysville and Chris Van Hollen of Kensington.