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House Adopts Budget Plan that Targets Fire Fighters

May 10, 2012 – The House of Representatives has brushed aside objections from the White House and the IAFF to endorse a budget plan that will result in significant cutbacks in fire protection and require federal fire fighters to pay more out of pocket to qualify for a pension. The legislation, HR 5652, was approved by a vote of 218-199.

The proposal seeks to rewrite a bipartisan agreement reached last year between the White House and congressional leaders that called for reducing the deficit by cutting spending equally between defense and domestic priorities. HR 5652, which was authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), would replace the defense cuts with draconian cuts in federal aid to states and local governments, and with a 5 percent increase in pension contributions from federal workers.

IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger wrote to the Members of the House of Representatives, warning that passage of the Ryan plan would eliminate essential revenue sources that protect public safety. “Without these funds, state and local governments may be forced to….cut funding from other essential programs such as the fire service to balance their budgets,” he said. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) asked to have Schaitberger’s letter entered into the Congressional Record to assure it would be a permanent part of the bill’s legislative history.

The proposal to cut state and local assistance comes at a particularly difficult time, as cities continue to struggle with a slow economic recovery. Many economists point to public sector layoffs and other cuts in local budgets as the reason why the unemployment rate remains high, long after the Great Recession officially ended and private sector employment continues to grow.

In addition to the cuts to local aid, Schaitberger objected to the continuing Republican-backed war on federal employees. Noting that a two-year federal pay freeze already contributed $60 billion toward deficit reduction, Schaitberger added, “Federal fire fighters should not be treated like a piggy bank for Congress” to fund other projects.

Despite the House action, HR 5652 stands little chance of becoming law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) does not plan to bring the proposal before the Senate, and President Obama has vowed to veto the bill if it were to pass both chambers, telling Congress, “The bill relies entirely on spending cuts that impose a particular burden on the middle-class and the most vulnerable among us, while doing nothing to raise revenue from the most affluent.”