This vote was on an amendment that would have prevented a bill from reducing benefits for federal workers who are injured on the job.
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that would allow the financially troubled U.S. Postal Service to take cost-saving measures. One provision of the bill would reduce workers compensation benefits for employees of all federal government agencies, not just the Postal Service. Sen. Akaka’s amendment would have stripped the bill of this provision and replaced it with legislation the House of Representatives had passed to reform the federal workers compensation program without reducing benefits.
Sen. Akaka argued that cutting benefits for injured federal workers would do little to save money at the Postal Service but a lot to hurt firefighters, FBI agents, postal workers, and other federal employees who have been injured in the line of duty. The underlying bill would even cut benefits for some workers who had already suffered an injury and now have no other source of income, he said.
“Any changes to benefits for those injured in service to their country should be done in a careful, comprehensive manner. There are complex issues that deserve more analysis before we simply cut benefits people have planned for and depend on,” Sen. Akaka said.
Opponents of Sen. Akaka’s amendment argued that it would not help reduce costs, the main intent of the postal reform bill. They argued that the federal workers compensation program is more generous than most state programs, and that it should be re-focused toward helping workers return to the workforce.
“This is a troubled program. It needs to be reformed,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said. “There needs to be more of a focus on return to work, and it needs to be more fair to workers who spend their entire careers working for the Postal Service or the federal government and then retire and receive a far lower benefit than an elderly individual who remains on workers' comp.”
Sen. Akaka’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 46-53. Voting “yea” were 45 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 1 Republican. Voting “nay” were 45 Republicans and 8 Democrats. As a result, the Senate moved forward with legislation that would cut benefits for federal workers who are injured on the job.