images

The House on Monday rejected a GOP bill that would have set up a process for firing federal workers who have “seriously delinquent tax debts” and prevented people in that situation from being hired by the government.

Members voted 250-159 in favor of the Federal Employee Tax Accountability Act, which was sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). While that’s a clear majority in favor of the bill, it was called up under a suspension of House rules, which required a two-thirds majority vote.

The bill’s failure on the suspension calendar means Republicans could try to bring it up again under regular order, which would only require a simple majority for passage.

The bill was supported by 35 Democrats, and seven Republicans voted against it. Last year, the House passed a similar suspension bill in a 263-114 vote, with the help of 59 Democrats.

Republicans said the bill is needed to ensure federal workers are held to a higher standard of trust, in light of the $1 billion or so in delinquent taxes by employees covered by the bill.

“We want to hold ourselves to the standard that the taxpayers believe we should,” House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said.

Chaffetz said that while most federal workers are not delinquent on their taxes, about 107,000 workers owe about $1 billion, and their failure to pay means they are “thumb[ing] their nose at the rest of us.”

Democrats said the bill would be counterproductive by potentially firing federal workers and making it harder to ever collect money from them. They also said it’s not needed given that the delinquency rate for federal employees is about 3.6 percent, less than half of the national rate of 8.2 percent.

Still others argued that federal workers are already taking it on the chin in light of the sequester, the ongoing federal pay freeze, and other factors.