Mikulski Expresses Deep Disappointment at Continuation of Pay Freeze for Federal Employees

“I hope that in next year’s regular order, we can make this up,” Senator Mikulski said. “But I want to say to my federal employees, this was a draconian choice.”

March 12, 2013

WASHINGTON –U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today in a speech on the Senate floor, expressed deep disappointment at the continuation of a pay freeze for federal employees in the Consolidated & Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012.  

"I want to say to the federal employees, thank you for your work. I wanted to do it with a modest pay raise, but right now the duty and the situation that I find myself reluctantly in is that the way I serve you best is to make sure there is no government shutdown," Senator Mikulski said. "This bill will continue the existing pay freeze. It's necessary to avoid a shutdown of the federal government. Shutting down the government would make a tough situation even worse for federal employees."  

The government is currently operating under a CR which expires on March 27, 2013. The Senate bill would fund government operations through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013.  

"This bill was like a helicopter leaving a disaster area, the last one out, and I was trying to get the cargo on it to make sure we protected national security, that we honored compelling human needs, particularly for women and children in the area of education and health care," Senator Mikulski said. "The helicopter couldn't take off if this modest pay raise was on it. I think this is a terrible mistake. I hope that in next year's regular order, we can make this up. But I want to say to my federal employees, this was a draconian choice."  

Maryland is home to 130,000 federal employees who work to make sure the food we eat is safe, find cures for the most devastating diseases and make sure seniors get their social security checks each month. Federal agencies in Maryland include the National Institute of Health (NIH), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), among others.  

Senator Mikulski's remarks on the Senate floor, as delivered, follow:  

"Madam President, continuing the funding for fiscal year 2013 to our fiscal New Year's Eve, October 1, is our goal. We don't want a government shutdown. We don't want a government slamdown or lockdown. So we've been working very, very diligently on a bipartisan basis to fashion a bill that would get 60 votes so we'd be filibuster-proof.  

"You know, in the old days, majority ruled. Well, now it's a super majority. Now that's not a fight I'm going to have on this bill, because my job is to keep the government funded. To work on it in a way that is open, transparent, bipartisan and hopefully bicameral. This bill was like a helicopter leaving a disaster area, the last one out, and I was trying to get the cargo on it to make sure we protected national security, that we honored compelling human need, particularly for women and children in the area of education and health care.  

"And we also looked at how we could generate jobs. Not in government itself, but where government helps generate jobs in the private sector, like transportation, and to make important investments in science and technology that came up with the new ideas for the new products that will create jobs in our country and hopefully even export those products around the world.  

"So that's what I've been trying to do. I've also had to give up a lot. You know, I had to give up the funding for Obamacare. This was not my choice. I know that there will be an amendment offered to even defund it further. I happen to believe in what we did in president Obama's health care framework. I liked ending discrimination against women. I liked ending the discrimination against people who have children with pre-existing conditions. I liked funding the preventive amendment that provides access to women for mammograms and to children for early detection and screening. But we couldn't do it.  

"And one of the other things we couldn't do was add a very modest pay raise for federal employees. This bill will continue the existing pay freeze. It's necessary to avoid a shutdown of the federal government. Shutting down the government would make a tough situation even worse for federal employees. It would jeopardize our economic recovery. Shutting down the government would threaten the viability of small- and medium-sized business. It would even threaten the safety of our families, our economy, maybe even our country. Madam President, this is not a happy day for me and it's not a happy day for the millions of people who work diligently for the federal government.  

"I have the great honor to represent 130,000 federal employees. Each one is doing important work for the nation. And who are these employees? They're people who work at the National Institutes of Health finding cures or ways to contain disease – the next vaccine to help either the flu endemic or protect us against a pandemic. They're the civilian employees at the National Security Agency.  

"We employ the largest number of mathematicians in the world. And what do they do? They invent the kinds of technology that breaks the codes and protects us in the new cyber domain. They're the people who run the weather satellites. The European model might have done a better job predicting the storm last week, but you know why? Because we haven't had the resources to fund the weather service the way the Europeans have.  

"I have employees at FDA right this very minute looking at medical devices to see if they're safe. Right this very minute they're working with the private sector, who are bringing them new pharmaceuticals, new biotech and biologics so they can see if they're safe and effective – so they can go into clinical trials, be certified by the FDA, save lives here and be sold around the world.  

"But we say to them, 'Yeah, we know what you're doing, but tough luck. We can't give you a pay raise because we have out of control spending.' I don't think we have out of control spending. Do we have to be more frugal? Do we have to be smarter? Do we have to get more value for the dollar? Absolutely! We're on to that part of it. But don't attack federal employees for the mismanagement of the federal economy. That's right here. That's what we do. Don't blame them, and don't make them pay the price. It's like making the middle class pay the price for more domestic cuts while we protect subsidies to corporate jets.  

"But I'm on to these 130,000 federal employees. They help run Goddard. They help run the Hubble Space Telescope, the most important telescope since Galileo invented the first one. I can't tell you how bad I feel that we're not at least giving them a 0.5 percent pay raise. And they're facing sequester which could mean a 20 percent pay cut for many of them if they are furloughed.  

"Now, I said earlier I visited N.I.H. to see what the impact of sequester was. There was Dr. Carol Greider from Johns Hopkins who was also there. She just won the Nobel Prize two years ago. We're really proud of her.  

"N.I.H. told me that within the week of my arrival there to meet with them, as I've done so often, they cut cancer rates by 15 percent. Instead of pinning medals on them, we say, 'you don't get a pay raise. We have more important things to do with our money. You are a problem.' I don't think they're a problem. I don't think they're a problem at all. I think they're part of the solution, coming up with helping with our compelling human needs and creating jobs in our country in life sciences and giving us something to sell overseas.  

"I think it's wrong to keep asking them for more when oil and gas companies make record profits and we don't ask them to give back tax breaks. It's wrong to keep asking them for more when we can't close one tax loophole that benefits corporations that send jobs overseas.  

"When Senator Murray brings her budget bill up, I'll talk more about these lavish tax earmarks. This isn't the time and this isn't the place. But it is the time and it is the place to start saying we have to respect our civil service.  

"Senator Rubio just spoke about Egypt and said they have to be able to govern. It's not enough to just bring down a dictator. That's an excellent point. We've got to govern, too. And the hallmark of a democracy is a civil service that has integrity, that is promoted on the basis of merit, is independent of politics, and is carrying through on the missions that serve the nation.

"Whether it's serving the nation in research and technology or administering programs that help get transportation funding to Governors to build roads, bridges and relieve our pent-up demand in physical infrastructure or if it's in human infrastructure, like education and health care.  

"That's a democracy. And a democracy needs a civil service. And you need a civil service that is independent, has integrity and is promoted and hired on the basis of meritocracy. What is the hallmark of a despotic, autocratic government, be they communist or just plain despots? They are corrupt. You get ahead by taking a bribe, but doing a party favor, by looking the other way, or so many other things where you can't even open a business or get a permit unless there are receivers of tipping fees. You can't get through an airport unless you bribe your way through it. That's what a corrupt, despotic, autocratic government is.  

"But when you visit democracies, the first thing that you see is that they have a civil service. And what is the civil service? It has integrity, competency and it's incorruptible.  

"You know, we know you have your Ph.D's. Or we know that you're the blue-collar worker who manages the facilities at NIH who keeps the lights going so that researchers can do their work. It's those people who help us have a great country and a country we can be proud of.  

"Now, I hope we resolve this sequester with its layoffs and furloughs and potential pay cuts of 20 percent. I wish we could have at least said one thing to the federal employees – that we're at least going to give you a 0.5 percent raise. That's a half of one percent raise. I didn't like it because I thought it was so skimpy and Spartan.  

"The helicopter couldn't take off if this modest pay raise was on it. I think this is a terrible mistake. I hope that in next year's regular order, we can make this up. But I want to say to my federal employees, this was a draconian choice. Do we try to give you a pay raise that would be important to you every day – every dollar and every penny counts. Or do we prevent a government shutdown.  

"I want to say to the federal employees, thank you for your work. I wanted to do it with a modest pay raise, but right now the duty and the situation that I find myself reluctantly in is that the way I serve you best is to make sure there is no government shutdown.  

"Because you know what? In my heart and in my mind, as I see the federal government functioning, I know there is no such thing as a nonessential federal employee. Everybody doing their job with integrity in a meritocracy and incorruptible. Let's make sure we honor them. We have to get this bill done. Let's go on to the Murray budget. Let's right our economy.  

"And whatever problems we solve, don't blame the federal employees for the decisions that were made by the Congress to get us into the deficit and debt trouble we are in. They didn't do it, we did it. We should take the pay cut, not them."