Dem Congressman: ‘Federal Presence’ in Local Communities ‘Performs a Life-Saving Kind of Function’

By Christopher Goins | December 16, 2011 | 12:18 AM EST

Virginia Democrat Rep. Gerry Connolly (Photo: Connolly Web site)

( – Accusing Republicans of unfairly targeting federal employees in tax relief legislation, a Democrat lawmaker says many constituents are simply unaware of the “life-saving function” provided by their local “federal presence.”

“Many people aren’t aware of the fact that the federal presence and federal employees in their community is vital and performs a life-saving kind of function that is highly revered and valued,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said Wednesday. “And we need to get that narrative out there in every congressional district and in every state in the union to turn the tide in terms of this negative [Republican] narrative.”

Connolly was taking part in a conference call along with Democratic Reps. Jim Moran (Va.) and Chris van Hollen (Md.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), addressing the passage of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act.

The legislation, which passed in the House by a 234-193 vote Tuesday, cuts federal retirement benefits and freeze federal pay for more than a year.

Van Hollen said House Republicans could not bring themselves to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay for a payroll tax extension. Instead, he said, they chose to pick on other groups of Americans, for instance asking seniors to pay more in Medicare premiums.

“They came up with their version of the payroll tax cut which includes a lot of poison pills, and the president’s made clear he will veto their bill,” van Hollen continued. Their version of the bill was “essentially designed to fail.”

The biggest cuts chosen by the GOP were those targeting federal employees, he said – $65 billion out of $200 billion in cuts to offset other parts of the bill.

“It is a part of their cynical ploy to make scapegoats out of federal employees.”

Moran said, “the anti-government zealots on the Republican side have tried now throughout the year to find any way to punish the federal employees.”

The existing pay freeze that federal workers are already subjected to cost $50 billion, he said, adding that federal employees had already contributed a major share towards deficit reduction.

“What is trying to be done is to put a wedge between private sector middle class and the public sector middle class, and we can’t let that happen” Moran said.

Moran said the U.S. Senate would clear not accept the version passed in the House.

“But neither will the anti-government crowd give up on what they're trying to do to the federal workforce,” he added.

Moran said the civil service workforce accounts for less than five percent of all federal spending. He cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics as having reported that federal employees are paid 26 percent less than their private sector counterparts holding similar jobs, and that the gap between federal and non-federal jobs has increased since the pay freeze.

Connolly told reporters that Democrats should not fall for what he suggested were false-choice traps being set by Republicans.

“We have no choice, they would argue, but to cut back on federal compensation for federal employees we just can’t afford,” he said. “That would be true if we had exhausted all other alternatives.”

But far from exhausting all other options, Connolly said, the Republicans had eliminated them, thus forcing Democrats to look at one narrow and “unpalatable” choice.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “Who says that’s the only choice?”

Connolly argued that oil and gas subsidies, agricultural subsidies, and the elimination of the Bush tax cuts should be put on the table.

“There are lots of other options that can generate lots of revenue,” he said. “It’s just that the Republicans have by theology eliminated them from any kind of consideration, and that’s just plain wrong.”

The Democrats’ conference call was organized by National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.