Washington (CNN) – A top lobbying group for federal workers rushed to Capitol Hill Thursday, following news that budget negotiators were considering a $20 billion change in government workers’ paychecks. The fast pushback is a potential political issue for budget leaders who aides say have been getting closer to a deal.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, who sits on the budget compromise committee, told reporters Thursday that Republicans were pushing for, and negotiators have been discussing, a proposal to increase how much most federal workers contribute toward their pension. A senior Republican House aide confirmed to CNN that the idea has been on the table in spending talks.
“This is something we strongly oppose,” said Jessica Klement, spokeswoman for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, or NARFE. Out of breath while walking between congressional offices, Klement told CNN she is worried that the change may already be a done deal.
“But we have to operate under the mindset of fighting this as seriously as we can,” she insisted.
Reaction is quick, but the idea is not new, nor is it solely Republican. President Barack Obama included the change in his proposed 2014 budget, a fact that Republicans stress.
The idea has appeal because it brings in $20 billion in revenue without raising taxes. Currently, 0.8 percent of most government paychecks go toward the federal pension plan. The proposal would more than double that contribution, taking out 2 percent of each paycheck. For someone making the federal average of $78,000, this would mean $936 less in pay over a year.
House Democratic leaders quickly moved into verbal battle Thursday.
“I vehemently oppose efforts to target and single out these hardworking, middle-class Americans,” said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, whose district includes many federal workers.
Hoyer and others stress that while this would not increase taxes for the general public, it would affect the paychecks of roughly 2 million government employees.
Republicans respond that the government long has shouldered too great a share of federal worker pensions. And, again, they point out that President Obama proposed the idea himself.
One senior House Republican aide told CNN that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for Democrats to block a possible spending deal over the pension change alone.
In addition, the original Ryan budget would have mandated much larger contributions from government workers: bringing in $132 billion over ten years, rather than the $20 billion area discussed in budget talks.
Budget negotiators have until Dec. 13 to come up with a deal.