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Federal employees would receive a 2.7 percent raise in January 2022 as recommended by President Joe Biden, while a long-standing ban on most abortion coverage in their health insurance program would be dropped, under a bill approved by a House subcommittee Thursday.

The vote on the financial services and general government spending bill was the first in the process of setting spending and policy decisions for the budget year starting Oct. 1. The measure passed on a voice vote with some members voting no, but no recorded vote was requested.

The bill does not specify a raise figure, in what amounts to a form of action by inaction. Under the complex federal pay law, if Congress does not enact a specific raise by the end of the year, the White House's recommendation takes effect automatically.

Federal employee unions have been advocating for a 3.2 percent increase, and several Democratic-sponsored bills for that figure are pending in Congress.

"Certainly the White House's 2.7 percent proposal is a welcome start to the debate over what federal employees deserve next year, but there is plenty of time for the administration and Congress to reconsider and give frontline federal workers an average 3.2 percent," National Treasury Employees Union president Tony Reardon said in a statement.

Federal raises typically are split, with part paid across the board, and the funds for the remainder resulting in increases that vary slightly among some four dozen city areas and a flat rate for other locations. Employees working in the sprawling Washington-Baltimore locality typically receive one of the larger increases.

The raise would apply to some 2.1 million executive branch employees, although not to the more than 600,000 employees of the U.S. Postal Service, where raises are set through bargaining. Cost-of-living increases for federal retirees also are determined separately, reflecting the same inflation measure used for Social Security benefits.

During the subcommittee's brief meeting, there was no discussion of the raise and only passing reference to dropping a provision that has been in similar bills for many years barring abortion coverage in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) except in cases of rape or incest.

Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, the top Republican on the full Appropriations Committee, said it was "disappointing that the bill does not include long-standing pro-life provisions."

Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said he was hopeful that "at some point in the near future we will be able to reach a bipartisan and bicameral agreement on spending and eliminate controversial policy changes."

None of the Democratic members of the subcommittee addressed the abortion coverage provision. Biden had promised during the 2020 campaign to restore Medicaid insurance coverage for abortion, which has been blocked by what's known as the Hyde Amendment. In the past, he had supported that measure.

The FEHBP is the largest employer-sponsored health insurance program in the nation, with about 4 million current and retired federal workers enrolled and about an equal number of family members also covered. The government pays about 70 percent of the premiums for plans provided by private insurance companies under contract with the federal Office of Personnel Management.

Abortion policy was one of the issues that delayed Senate consideration of Biden's nominee to head the OPM, Kiran Ahuja. She ultimately was confirmed this week on a party-line vote in which Vice President Kamala Harris broke the tie.

The Peace Monument is seen in Washington on Feb. 13, 2019, with the dome of the U.S. Capitol in the background.
The Peace Monument is seen in Washington on Feb. 13, 2019, with the dome of the U.S. Capitol in the background. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

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