Congress appears set to override President Trump’s order last month to freeze federal civilian employee pay in 2019, as multiple plans to increase employees’ wages this year gain momentum.
Last year, efforts by Senate appropriators to provide civilian federal workers with a 1.9 percent pay increase in 2019 fell apart amid a dispute over whether to include funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, despite the fact that House Republicans had agreed to include the pay raise measure. And in late December, Trump finalized his plan to freeze civilian pay with an executive order.
Last week, in announcing the plan to end the 35-day partial government shutdown, Trump said a conference committee would be formed to negotiate on the Homeland Security spending package, which suggested that accord had been reached on other areas of government currently funded through a three-week continuing resolution. Indeed, a Democratic House appropriations aide confirmed Monday that both the House and Senate have agreed to a 1.9 percent pay raise for 2019, something senators have said could be applied retroactively to Jan. 1.
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“The Senate and House have both agreed on the 1.9 percent pay raise (it was included in the conferenced six-bill [package] the House passed, and the six-bill package that failed in the Senate [during the shutdown]),” the aide said. “I expect it will be part of any final deal.”
Meanwhile, some House lawmakers have begun to push for a bigger goal: pay parity. Last week, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., introduced the Federal Civilian Workforce Pay Raise Fairness Act (H.R. 790), which would provide civilian feds with a 2.6 percent pay increase in 2019, also retroactive to Jan. 1. That would bring the increase in pay in line with the raise approved last year for members of the military.
“Federal employees have dedicated their lives and careers in service to the American people,” Connolly said in a statement. “Yet far too often their sacrifice and dedication go unappreciated, met instead with insult and vitriol from the Oval Office. We must provide the entire federal workforce with a pay increase worthy of their selfless commitment to the betterment of the American public.”
And late Tuesday, a group of Democratic Senators—Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin of Maryland, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Brian Schatz of Hawaii—introduced legislation to provide federal employees with a 2.6 percent cost of living increase.
“Our federal workforce protects our nation, ensures the safety of our food and medicine, delivers Social Security and veterans’ benefits, and carries out countless other responsibilities on behalf of our citizens. President Trump’s shutdown just stranded more than 800,000 of these men and women without pay for over a month—at the same time that the Trump pay freeze took effect. Now more than ever, they deserve this cost of living adjustment to help make ends meet,” said Van Hollen. “I was proud to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass a 1.9 percent pay raise in the Senate prior to the government shutdown, and in light of the added costs imposed on federal workers by the shutdown, I urge my colleagues to support this modest 2.6 percent raise.”
Traditionally, Congress has approved measures to provide pay parity between the government’s civilian and military workforces, although in 2018, service members received a 2.4 percent pay raise, compared to only 1.9 percent for civilian federal workers.
The House Rules Committee met Tuesday to deliberate on the bill, and Hoyer slated the bill for a vote on Wednesday. With Democrats in control of the chamber, it is likely to pass, although its fate in the Senate is unclear.
This story has been updated.