Trump stops pay raises for federal workers in 2019

Toluse Olorunnipa and Louis Labrecque
Bloomberg News, Bloomberg Law

President Donald Trump canceled automatic pay raises for civilian federal workers in 2019 as Congress continues to negotiate on salary increases.

Trump made the announcement in a letter released by the White House on Thursday to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Trump cited the need to “maintain efforts to put our Nation on a sustainable fiscal course.”

Congress can still raise federal workers’ pay in spending legislation. The Senate has already approved a 1.9 percent pay increase for next year but the House would still need to approve it. The House version of the legislation doesn’t include a raise. The two bills must now be reconciled.

Trump had asked for a pay freeze in his budget proposal this year, and his action conforms to that position.

The president’s move could have ripple effects in the Nov. 6 congressional elections for members of his party in competitive House districts with large numbers of federal employees. Just south of Washington, those areas include Representative Barbara Comstock in northern Virginia and Representative Scott Taylor in Virginia Beach.

Had Trump not acted by Friday, federal workers would have received an automatic across-the-board pay increase of 2.1 percent and locality pay increases averaging 25.7 percent under the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act, according to the letter.

No president including Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have let the full locality pay increases take effect under the law.

Last year, Trump lowered an automatic 1.9 percent across-the-board increase under the law to 1.4 percent and an automatic 26.2 percent average increase in locality pay to a 0.5 percent average increase.

Despite the expanding economy and Republican control of Congress, the federal government is on track to rack up annual deficits in excess of $1 trillion in the coming years following a tax overhaul passed last year.

J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing federal workers, blasted Trump’s pay freeze and urged the House to pass the 1.9 percent pay increase approved by the Senate.

“President Trump’s plan to freeze wages for these patriotic workers next year ignores the fact that they are worse off today financially than they were at the start of the decade,” Cox said in a statement. “Federal employees have had their pay and benefits cut by over $200 billion since 2011, and they are earning nearly 5 percent less today than they did at the start of the decade.”

Democrat Gerry Connolly, who represents thousands of federal workers in his northern Virginia district, also criticized Trump’s decision.

“His tax bill exploded the deficit, and now he is trying to balance the budget on the backs of federal workers,” Connolly said in a statement. “I will not accept President Trump’s mismanagement of the federal government as fait accompli.”

The White House didn’t immediately respond to questions.