WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives approved a plan Tuesday to give federal employees a 4.1 percent pay increase across the board next year, more than twice the amount President Bush had requested.
The raise was part of the $89.3 billion transportation and treasury spending bill that was approved by the House on a 381-39 vote Tuesday evening, with 15 members not voting.
A Senate committee has approved the 4.1 percent increase and the full Senate was expected to take up the measure this week.
Bush had asked for a 4.1 percent raise for military personnel and a 2 percent increase for civilian workers, but the congressional proposals call for pay parity among civilian and military workers and a raise for all employees, regardless of whether they are white- or blue-collar workers.
"It is important to keep this issue in perspective," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in a prepared statement.
"The 4.1 percent pay adjustment that I have been advocating for federal employees ... would cost an additional $1.6 billion over the president's proposal," said Hoyer, a lead sponsor of the House pay raise amendment. "In comparison, the federal government spends $1.6 billion in just 12 days in Iraq."
The debate comes on the heels of President Bush's speech Sunday, in which he said he would ask Congress for an additional $87 billion to help pay for the war in Iraq. Bush had said that he wanted a lower pay raise because of the costs of the war on terrorism.
Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union (search), agreed with the president that it is the wrong time to raise federal workers' salaries, because of the money being spent on the war.
"Basically the proposal for a 4.1 percent increase certainly doesn't seem in line with what the administration's goal is," Sepp said. "That won't sit well with taxpayers. I think at a time of economic instability, even a 4.1 percent raise might place a strain as far as citizens are concerned."
Sepp was particularly upset by a provision that would grant a 2.2 percent cost-of-living raise to members of Congress, the vice president and Supreme Court justices. It would be the fifth year in a row that Congress has opted to raise its own pay, according to published reports.
"The appearance of Congress raising their already considerable salaries to an even higher level would strike many as irresponsible," Sepp said.
But federal workers' unions have argued that civilian employees are just as deserving of a raise as their military counterparts.
In a written statement, the American Federation of Government Employees (search) said: "Blue-collar workers supporting our troops overseas, as well as defense and homeland security employees risking their lives to protect all Americans and their families on our home front, should be guaranteed the same pay increase as General Schedule (search) federal civilian workers and military personnel."
Hoyer said he is optimistic that the pay raise will stand after the House and Senate meet to negotiate the details of the final bill.