The House voted Friday morning to freeze civilian federal salaries for another year as lawmakers continue to look under every cushion for money they can squeeze out of the budget.
The freeze, which would save $11 billion this year, would apply to every federal employee from Vice President Joseph R. Biden, members of the president's Cabinet and their employees, all the way to lawmakers in Congress.
It overturns a directive President Obama's administration issued late last year that cleared the way for a pay hike.
The legislation is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate but could become part of any broader deal to prevent the automatic sequesters due to hit March 1 — though lawmakers don't appear able to bridge the gap on those cuts at this point.
"We could do this today, or we could cut the National Institutes of Health. We could do this today, or we could park two or three of our aircraft carriers and lay off the crews," said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican.
Friday's vote was bipartisan, with 43 Democrats joining 218 Republicans to power it through the chamber. Ten Republicans and 144 Democrats opposed it.
While the troops have seen pay increases, civilian federal workers have had their pay frozen for the last two years.
Mr. Issa said even under the pay freeze, the average federal salary increased more than $1,500 a year over the last two years because federal law builds what's called "step increases" into salaries. He said during that freeze the average federal salary still grew from $69,000 to $72,000.
But opponents, particularly those with large constituencies of federal workers in their districts, said the pay freeze amounted to punishing civil servants who often give their lives for their work.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, ticked off the federal law enforcement agents who have been killed recently: One Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, a Secret Service agent, three agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, one Drug Enforcement Administration agent and two U.S. Marshals.
Other lawmakers pointed to the four Americans killed in the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, last year.
"Shame on us," said Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, New Jersey Republican.
The sequesters — $110 billion in cuts due through the rest of 2013 — loomed large over the debate, and all sides grappled with what those cuts will mean.
Mr. Wolf at one point decried the cuts, saying they would prevent salary increases for the doctors who treat wounded troops at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. But Mr. Issa said it was a choice of stemming salaries, or else facing furloughs that would be caused by the sequesters.
Democrats, though, said there was another option other than cutting — raise taxes to fend off the cuts and to spend on priorities.
"House Republicans have refused to consider asking the richest among us to pay a dime more," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat.
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