Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said Wednesday that domestic partners of federal employees deserve the same benefits as married spouses not only because it is the right thing to do but because it will help the federal government recruit and retain people with the skills we need.
The Senator's comments came at a hearing on S.2521, the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which Lieberman introduced last year with Senator Gordon Smith, R-Wash., and 20 other co-sponsors. This was the first Congressional hearing ever held on the issue of federal employee domestic partner benefits.
"This bill makes business sense and it is the fair and right thing to do," Lieberman said. "We believe it will help the federal government attract and retain the high quality employees we need to carry out our responsibilities to the American people in the years ahead, particularly at a time when all the experts tell us there will be a generational change that will bring a very large percentage of federal employees to retirement."
"The federal government should be taking the lead in extending equitable benefits to all working families," said Smith. "In the interest of fairness and attracting the best and brightest workers, we should correct this disparity."
Under the legislation, same-sex domestic partners of federal employees would be eligible to participate in health benefits, long-term care, Family and Medical Leave, federal retirement benefits, among other benefits.
Federal employees and their domestic partners would also be subject to the same responsibilities that apply to married employees and their spouses, such as anti-nepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements. According to UCLA's Williams Institute, over 30,000 federal workers live in committed relationships with same-sex domestic partners who are not federal employees.
Over 10,000 private sector companies provide benefits to domestic partners. Among them are General Electric, IBM, Eastman Kodak, Dow Chemical, the Chubb Corporation, Lockheed Martin, and Duke Energy. In addition, the governments of 13 states, 145 local jurisdictions, and over 300 colleges and universities provide such benefits.
Based on the experience of private companies and state and local governments, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees would increase the cost of those programs by less than 1/2 of one percent. The Office of Personnel Management says the cost of health benefits for domestic partners over 10 years would be $670 million. Lieberman pointed out that while strict cost benefit analyses need to be conducted for all federal spending, the federal budget currently stands at $3 trillion. Lieberman said the bill would not pass in this session of Congress but he vowed to reintroduce it in the next Congress and "I'm looking forward to action on it."
"The Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act makes good economic sense. It is sound policy. And I believe it is the right thing to do," Lieberman said.