Congressional Negotiators Budget for Pay Raise In Spending Package

By Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.com

Lawmakers negotiating federal agency appropriations for fiscal 2019 included in one of their just-unveiled compromise bills a provision that would fund a 1.9 percent pay raise for civilian employees next year, further indicating Congress is set to overrule President Trump’s proposal for a pay freeze.

The language was included in a conference report setting annual funding for the departments of Defense, Labor, Education and Health and Human Services, which the bipartisan, bicameral group issued to iron out the differences between previous iterations approved separately by the House and Senate. The pay raise funding only applied to the agencies contained within the bill and was contingent upon lawmakers formally authorizing an across-the-board increase in other legislation. That typically happens in the financial services and general government spending bill, one of 12 that Congress must pass each year. An appropriations aide confirmed that measure will have “the final word.”

“The conference agreement includes sufficient funding to provide for a 1.9 percent pay raise for civilian employees of the Department of Defense and other agencies funded by this act, if authorized by another provision of law,” lawmakers wrote in a joint explanatory statement accompanying the bill.

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The “minibus” was the second such spending package appropriators unveiled for fiscal 2019, following a measure funding the departments of Veterans Affairs, Energy and related agencies, as well as the legislative branch. The House voted on Thursday to send that measure to President Trump for his signature.

Lawmakers are still negotiating a third minibus, which funds the departments of Interior, Treasury, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, as well the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Personnel Management and General Services Administration, among others. The Senate version of that bill contained a 1.9 percent raise for all civilian employees, but the House iteration would have allowed Trump’s proposed freeze to move forward.

Conferees for that bill held their first meeting on Thursday, but made no mention of the pay raise. After the meeting, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told Government Executive the pay raise was “still under negotiations” but that he “would be supportive of it.” Most of the other members of the conference committee appear likely to support the salary boost.

A bipartisan chorus of lawmakers spoke out against a freeze when Trump formalized the proposal late last month. A group of nearly two-dozen lawmakers, including 16 Republicans, recently sent Trump a letter asking him to reverse his decision. More than 180 House Democrats sent a similar letter to congressional leadership. Trump himself has suggested he could change his mind.

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