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Senate Approves Spending Package With Military Pay Raise, No Labor Dept. Pay Freeze

An amendment to freeze the pay of Labor employees was not offered on the floor.

The Senate on Thursday voted 85-7 to approve a $857 billion spending package for the Defense, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services departments, confirming the biggest raise for military personnel in nearly a decade and avoiding a proposed freeze on civilian pay at the Labor Department.

The minibus spending bill (H.R. 6157), which represents more than 60 percent of federal discretionary spending in fiscal 2019, as approved in the Senate affirms a 2.6 percent pay increase for members of the military initially proposed by President Trump and backed by the House.

The raise next year would mark the greatest pay increase for service members since they received a 3.4 percent increase in 2010. Although both chambers will meet in conference next month to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, it is unlikely the pay raise provision would change before enactment.

Last week, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., introduced an amendment that would have frozen the pay of Labor Department employees until Labor Secretary Alex Acosta developed a plan to reduce unspecified “improper payments.” But during floor debate on the bill, Kennedy did not bring the proposal forward for a vote, so it was not included in the final package.

And although Congress in the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act approved a plan to issue 25 percent cuts to the Defense Department’s back office functions, including logistics, human resources, service contracts and real property management, those reductions will not take effect until fiscal 2020.

In the meantime, the Pentagon can study whether those cuts would hurt the delivery of services, and if so, it can ask Congress to impose a smaller reduction by Oct. 1, 2019.

Both chambers of Congress must come to an agreement on the spending bill by Sept. 30 or there will be a partial government shutdown. House lawmakers are on recess this month, but they will return to Washington on Sept. 4.