Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Trump Appears to Waver on Pay Freeze

House puts off formally beginning negotiations with the Senate on a spending package that could contain a raise for federal workers.

Just 24 hours after formalizing his plan to freeze the pay of civilian federal employees, President Trump appeared open to backtracking on the proposal.

Last Thursday, Trump issued an alternative pay plan that would freeze federal workers’ pay at 2018 levels, a move required by the end of August to avoid significant automatic salary increases as mandated by the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act. The pay freeze was first proposed in the White House’s fiscal 2019 budget plan in March.

But on Friday, following outcry from federal unions, Democrats and some vulnerable Republican lawmakers, Trump signaled that he would consider changing his mind. During a ceremony to mark the signing of an executive order on retirement planning, the president said he would “study” the issue over the weekend.

“I’m going to be studying, you know, the federal workers in Washington that you’ve been reading so much about,” Trump said. “People don’t want to give them any increase. They haven’t had one in a long time. I said, 'I’m going to study that over the weekend.' It’s a good time to study it—Labor Day. Let’s see how they do next week. But a lot of people were against it.”

Most federal employees live and work outside of the Washington, D.C. area, and feds most recently received a 1.9 percent pay raise in January of this year.

Neither the White House nor the Office of Management and Budget responded to requests Tuesday to clarify Trump’s comments.

On Capitol Hill, House and Senate negotiators will debate this month whether to send a 1.9 percent raise for civilian employees to Trump for enactment as part of a minibus spending agreement that also includes funding for the departments of Interior, Agriculture, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and other agencies. The Senate has included the raise in its version of the minibus, but the House did not. 

Before negotiations can formally begin, however, the House must move for the chambers to go to conference committee. It is not slated to do so this week, according to a schedule from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. A Republican House aide said the bill is still “being hashed out” by staff.

Instead, lawmakers will negotiate a minibus that includes funding for the Defense Department and other agencies first. In both chambers, that bill includes a 2.6 percent raise for members of the military.

Federal employee unions put their support behind the Senate pay raise plan for civilians last week, but have also begun advocating for pay parity between civilians and military personnel. Congress traditionally has provided raises in equal measure for both civilians and service members, but last year, lawmakers allowed Trump’s plan to increase military pay by an extra 0.5 percentage points over civilians go into effect.

“There is already a precedent for a raise for federal employees this year: the military,” said Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union. “Service members will receive a 2.6 percent increase starting in January, and civilian employees also deserve an adjustment. We support those in Congress who are working to provide pay parity between civilian and military federal employees.”