Fedweek

Washington DC - Feb 5 2021: Reporters are reflected in the sunglasses of House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) center, during a press conference outside the West Wing at the White House, after a meeting with President Biden and House leaders to discuss coronavirus relief legislation.

Congress has mapped out a schedule in which the first main order of business will be enactment of a pandemic relief bill that could address some federal workplace policies, ahead of the annual budget process that typically serves the same function.

Congress last week approved a measure that increases the prospect of enacting further pandemic relief by using the “reconciliation” process in which major legislation needs only a simple majority in the Senate—in this case all 50 Democrats plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Harris—rather than the 60 votes needed for most major legislation.

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The measure did not list specifics, leaving those up to individual congressional committees, a process that has started in the House. A floor vote there could come as early as next week on a bill containing those various pieces, with the Senate then turning to a counterpart. Congressional Democratic leaders hope to approve a final bill within about a month.

The bill will be an opportunity for another try at policies that House civil service leaders pushed last year in relief bills that ultimately did not pass.

Those included guarantees of hazardous duty pay for front-line federal employees; setting standards for when agencies could recall teleworking employees to their regular worksites; and renewal of a now-expired special nationwide sick leave authority that apparently was little-used inside the government.

Other policies that could get consideration include a repeat of the loosened retirement savings withdrawal rules—that also were enacted early last year and that also have expired—that applied to the TSP along with similar programs such as 401(k)s.

Meanwhile, the White House has not released the annual budget proposal that typically goes to Congress in early February—except in presidential transition years, such as this one. Officials say that most likely the initial budgetary release will be only a broad outline of spending priorities with a more detailed document to follow. In 2017 the former wasn’t issued until mid-March and the latter until mid-May.

That will kick off the annual process of writing spending bills for the fiscal year that starts October 1—a process that almost always extends beyond that date with temporary funding measures.

Unlike the pandemic relief bill, those measures would be subject to the 60-vote Senate threshold, meaning that at least some bipartisan support would be needed to enact federal workplace initiatives, such as benefit improvements that would add to spending.

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