While President Trump aimed to freeze the pay of nearly two million civilian federal workers, a 1.9% increase has now been agreed upon by Congressional Republicans. Although the deal between Senate and House Republicans is only in the preliminary stage, the deal would also include the end of a salary freeze for scores of appointees (including some members of the Trump Cabinet and Vice President Pence) and even Executive-level employees.
As expected, the latter element was opposed by Democrats and the deal could yet be adjusted now the midterm elections have finished, and lawmakers take their place in Capitol Hill. For the Republicans fighting for this increase for civilian federal workers, the outcome was a reward for their hard work.
In August, when Trump announced his decision to freeze pay, many GOP lawmakers spoke out including Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.). In fact, Comstock has been credited with pushing through the new agreement by Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) who currently chairs the spending subcommittee. During the midterm elections race, it became clear that tens of thousands of federal employees could decide whether she retained her Northern Virginia House seat; this made the agreement pivotal.
In a recent statement, Graves thanked Comstock for her ‘tireless advocacy’ and said that both her hard work and President Trump’s booming economy played an important role in getting the issue resolved. Initially, Comstock actually spoke about the civilian workforce raise with Vice President Pence and noted his receptiveness. However, Trump’s initial decision wasn’t reversed, and the White House claimed budget constraints as the main problem. Despite this, Comstock remained positive and remained confident in the change in order to ‘retain talent’ within the government.
So far, the White House has remained quiet on the preliminary agreement, but one spokesperson for Pence made it clear that the Vice President had no involvement in the raise negotiations. The Office of Personnel Management claims $85,000 to be the average federal worker salary; this has been disputed by the American Federation of Government Employees. The latter represents 750,000 federal workers, and they believe scientists and doctors, who are typically on higher salaries, inflate this so-called ‘average.’ With these two professions removed, most federal workers will be on a scale between $33,000 and $55,000 per year.
For most of the two million federal in the workforce, they spend their time across the US in veterans’ hospitals, federal labs, military bases, national parks, and various other facilities. Meanwhile, Washington DC contains 15% of all federal employees. If the congressional deal goes through, this would be the second 1.9% pay increase for many federal civilian employees after the first in 2018; military members should also benefit from a 2.6% increase in the New Year.
For lawmakers, there were a number of issues being discussed as they attempted to create a full package for congressional spending; the bill containing government worker pay came towards the end. The fiscal year ended on September 30 which means that the agreement has been included as a short-term spending measure (this runs through to December 7th). For now, the midterm elections saw the House adjourn discussions, but lawmakers will get right back to business upon their return to the Capitol.
As mentioned previously, Democrats are supportive of the raise for civilian workers, but they don’t have the same level of support for executive-level appointees having their pay freeze lifted; something that remained the same through most of President Obama’s time in office. As we move forward, this part of the GOP deal will be one of the hot topics to be discussed.
According to one Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), the Trump Cabinet is the wealthiest in modern history, and there’s no reason why the Obama and Trump administrations should have different standards. After this, Lowey went one step further and said increasing the pay of Trump’s Cabinet isn’t the right path for fiscal responsibility for the kids and grandkids of America.
Who would receive a pay increase from Trump’s Cabinet? For the most part, it would be executive-level members in the top rungs of Cabinet agencies, smaller agencies, and even various ambassadors who aren’t Foreign Service members.
Ever since the Obama administration, these individuals have had their pay frozen in continual annual appropriation bills. This started in 2011, after the recession, when President Obama decided to implement a two-year government-wide pay freeze. Under the preliminary agreement, the freeze would be lifted, and pay would increase to a level the salary would have been at had the freeze not taken place.
What does this mean? There are thought to be around 1,100 senior political appointees, and they would see a significant jump in their annual salary (currently averaging between $155,000 and $200,000). While the raises wouldn’t necessarily be automatic in all cases, some would enjoy a boost of over 5%. For Pence, his $230,000 salary has been frozen ever since the Trump initiation, but this could increase to just under $244,000.
Elsewhere, over 100,000 employees are represented by the National Federation of Federal Employees, and the president of this association believes President Trump’s original plans to be an ‘insult.’ With the President advocating a pay freeze for 2019, Randy L. Erwin also said that Congress challenging the White House is pleasing to see. Much like many Democrats, Erwin believes lifting the cap for higher-paid appointees could be dangerous because federal employees are generally underpaid.
Now that the midterm elections have been and gone, it’ll be interesting to see how this issue is handled by the new formation of the US government. Will both aspects of the deal go through? In truth, only time will tell, but the salaries of two million employees are on the line!