Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 2, 2018
The president’s announcement that he would cancel a 2.1%, across-the-board pay increase for federal workers, as well as locality-based increases, was a clear statement of his priorities: Wall and military missiles yes; workers, no.
Of course, this does not include military wages, which are going up 2.6%. But it does affect 2.1 million federal workers around the nation, including 1.7 million who live outside the Washington area.
His announcement may well get shoved down his throat by a Congress that supports a majority of his programs, but not all.
The best part was the Trump reasoning: “In light of our Nation’s fiscal situation, Federal employee pay must be performance-based, and aligned strategically toward recruiting, retaining, and rewarding high-performing Federal employees and those with critical skill sets,” Trump wrote in a letter to Congress.
This is pretty rich from the president who forced through a tax reduction plan that has proved beneficial to corporations and the wealthy and that has caused the federal deficit to boom. It is pretty rich for a president who wants enough money for a space force, a new fleet of nuclear weapons and almost personal military parade costing millions of dollars but not money for the health researcher in the National Institutes for Health or the meat inspector in the Department of Agriculture.
Trump also has said he opposes general pay raises, and prefers raises to reflect specific, individual achievement. Fine, if that’s what you think, but then, isn’t an across-the-board freeze a generalized judgment, not reflecting individual achievement? I’m sure federal agencies have annual review processes for individuals, just as corporations do.
Last year, the Trump administration approved a 1.4% increase in federal pay and a 2.4% increase in military pay.
The president already has threatened a shutdown of government unless he can get full funding over multiple years for construction of the border Wall and changes he wants in immigration laws.
All of this should play out over the next three weeks, because Congress must set up spending for the new fiscal year starting in October.
While Congress has been loath to criticize the president personally on the full array of ethical issues and matters covered by the Special Counsel’s investigation, the Congress also gets very uppity about being told when and how to spend federal money.
In his letter, Trump said he had the authority to propose an alternative pay schedule. He said Title V of the U.S. Code allows the president to alter scheduled pay changes he deems inappropriate in light of “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare.”
In his 2019 budget proposal, Trump sought to freeze federal pay, but the Senate Appropriations Committee included a 1.9% increase in its spending plans for 2019. The House version of the bill did not include such an increase, and sought reductions to spending on federal pension plans. The two chambers are scheduled to meet in the coming weeks to work out the differences between their bills, negotiations which could effectively override Trump’s move to cut pay. Trump has not indicated if he would veto such a measure if it included a pay increase.
The freeze would also eliminate increases for being assigned to live in more expensive areas of the country.
The Hill.com noted that Democrats and some Republicans oppose a freeze.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-MD, the number two Democrat in the House, said, “Cutting federal pay is not the way to run the best government possible or to recruit and retain the most talented Americans to serve their fellow countrymen.”
Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-VA, said she was strongly opposed to the move, arguing that GOP support for federal workers should extend beyond ICE and homeland security officials. “We cannot balance the budget on the backs of our federal employees and I will work with my House and Senate colleagues to keep the pay increase in our appropriations measures that we vote on in September,” she added.
Some political observers have noted that the announcement is bound to work against the president’s interests in the November elections in areas like
Virginia with a large number of federal employees.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the nation’s largest union representing federal employees, urged Congress to override the move and stick to the Senate’s pay proposal. AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said, “Federal employees have had their pay and benefits cut by over $200 billion since 2011, and they are earning nearly 5% less today than they did at the start of the decade,” he added.
The federal deficit has exploded under Trump, with the advent of the GOP tax law that is projected to cost $1.9 trillion over the course of a decade, as well as a bipartisan spending deal that increased discretionary spending by nearly $300 billion in 2018 and 2019.
It is hard to get excited about budgets, but we can demand a certain consistency, can’t we?