Fedweek

Final passage last week of an infrastructure bill completed work in Congress on one of the major pieces of legislation for the year but a logjam remains of other bills with provisions affecting federal employee pay, leave and other policies.

With passage of the infrastructure bill, previously approved by the Senate, House attention now is focused on an even larger bill reflecting many Biden administration policies. Among the ever-changing provisions are creating a new national paid leave program for purposes for which the Family and Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

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As it stands now, that provision would provide up to about $800 a week for up to four weeks within a 12-month period for all FMLA-covered purposes, starting in 2024. That is a scaled-back version of earlier language that would have provided up to about $1,200 for the full 12 weeks under the FMLA starting in 2023.

Federal employees other than Postal Service employees already are eligible for paid leave for the full 12 weeks for parental purposes but not for personal or family medical reasons. Postal employees would become eligible for the four weeks of partial pay for all FMLA-covered purposes while other federal employees would benefit from the partial pay for purposes other than parental reasons.

That bill could reach the House floor as soon as next week. If it passes, the Senate could then approve it with only Democratic votes under special rules for the measure. Congress is performing only committee work this week, will return to session for a week and then recess for Thanksgiving week. That will leave little time ahead of deadlines for two other major pieces of legislation, both of which as structured today would require support of at least 10 Republicans in the Senate.

The current temporary spending authority for agencies expires December 3; to prevent a partial shutdown, Congress will have to enact either another temporary extension or a wrap-up bill covering the remainder of the fiscal year that expires next September 30. A House-passed bill and a draft counterpart produced by Senate Democratic leaders would allow a 2.7 percent raise to take effect in January by default and would end the general ban on abortion coverage in the FEHB program, among other provisions.

Around the same time the government will again bump up against the debt ceiling, with Republicans adamant that they will not vote to either raise or suspend the limit even at the cost of a default on the national debt with potentially grave economic consequences. Democratic leaders still have not announced a strategy for dealing with that issue.

Also likely ahead soon is Senate action on the annual DoD authorization bill, considered an annual “must-pass”—one has been enacted yearly for decades. Among provisions at stake there are special policies involving buyouts, RIF protections and probationary periods at DoD, which accounts for a third of the federal workforce. The House already has passed its version.

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