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The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Wednesday passed a bill that will provided benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers by a vote of 8 to 1.
"I believe this legislation is really on the right side of history," said committee chair and sponsor of the bill Sen. Joseph Lieberman, calling it an extension of "equal pay for equal work."
GOP senator Susan Collins, a cosponsor of the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act, said the legislation would be a critical recruiting tool in the coming years. "The federal government faces a potential wave of departures in the next few years when approximately 60% of the federal workforce will be eligible for retirement," she said.
The legislation is now eligible for a full Senate vote, but Lieberman said the bill would not move on the Senate floor until the Office of Personnel Management provided an estimate of savings offsets that would help pay for the measure initially. Lieberman noted the bill represented "a very small percentage" of overall costs for the federal workforce -- coming in at an estimated $63 million a year on average over the next 10 years, while all civilian personnel costs for fiscal year 2009 totaled $227.6 billion.
"Will this measure add to the total cost of providing federal employee
benefits?," Lieberman asked. "Of course it will, but in an amount that
I consider to be well worth what we achieve in terms of attracting the
best possible employees to federal service
and also in term of righting the scales of justice."
Senator Collins was particularly displeased with not having the OPM recommendations in time for the committee vote.
"I'm very disappointed that two months after our hearing that OPM has yet to bring to us the offsetting savings that will compensate for the initial cost of this bill," she said.
Following the hearing, Lieberman told The Advocate that OPM has made cost savings proposals, but the Office of Management and Budget has yet to approve them.
"John Berry is very confident that they can find this money," he said, "but they just couldn't get a sign off early enough, and I think that will really help us on the floor so that the bill is deficit neutral."
OPM did not respond to inquiries in time for the posting of this article.
Companion legislation in the House was also passed out of committee, but neither bill is expected to come up for a vote before the end of the year.