A Republican bill to freeze the pay of federal workers and members of Congress alike through 2013 passed the House on Wednesday night.
The prospects in the Democratic-led Senate are uncertain for the measure, which supporters say would save taxpayers $26.2 billion.
The final vote was 309-117, but the outcome was in doubt until the final gavel. That’s because the House Republican majority placed it on the expedited suspension calendar, which requires two-thirds support of all the members present in the chamber. That meant backing was also needed from a chunk of Democrats as Republicans do not hold that many seats.
In the end, 72 Democrats voted for the bill.
Republicans knew well beforehand that many Democrats did not support the legislation, usually a cue to opt for easier passage through regular order. However, GOP leaders chose the suspension process, usually reserved for noncontroversial bills, daring Democrats to vote against freezing their own pay.
Many Democrats oppose freezing government workers' pay for three straight years, suggesting it penalizes them for the state of the economy. Instead, they support President Obama's plan give federal workers a 0.5 percent cost-of-living increase in the next fiscal year.
Democrats say GOP leaders combined the government workers' pay freeze with one for members of Congress so they could bash Democrats on the campaign trail.
On Wednesday morning, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., seemed to do just that, telling reporters: “Democrats are trying to actually block freezing our pay.”
“Disingenuous,” complained Maryland's Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during floor debate.
Cummings and two other Washington-area lawmakers representing thousands of federal workers—Chris Van Hollen, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, both of Maryland—pointed out angrily that Republicans refused on Wednesday to bring a Democratic bill to the floor that would have only frozen congressional pay.
“I am for bringing a bill to the floor that would freeze our salaries,” Hoyer said. On Tuesday, Hoyer characterized his GOP counterparts' maneuvering on the bill as “clever,” and suggested it would result in 30-second political attack ads.
Republicans, including the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., said such claims were baseless. During debate, Duffy said the Democratic-led 111th Congress was the first to freeze federal workers' pay back in 2010. His bill would merely extend that, he said, and freeze their own pay as well.
“The only difference in my bill is that I included members of Congress,” Duffy said.