Senate clears 2019 federal pay raise, despite White House opposition

The Senate passed a pay raise for federal employees for 2019, a move that gives civilian employees another shot at a 1.9 percent boost for the next year.

The federal pay raise was included in the Senate’s version of the financial services and general government appropriations bill, one of four spending measures the chamber passed on Wednesday as a “minibus” package.

The Senate’s recommendation of a 1.9 percent raise for civilian employees would match the raise civilian employees received last year.

The vote is significant, because it represents the first time in about eight years since Congress has attempted to propose an alternative to the president’s initial pay recommendation for federal employees for the following year.

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But the prospect of a federal pay raise is far from a done deal.

President Donald Trump in his annual budget proposal recommended a pay freeze for civilian employees in 2019. The White House has until Aug. 31 to determine federal pay for the following year. Despite his budget recommendation, Trump has not yet officially set pay for 2019, and that announcement typically comes on or near the final deadline.

“Across-the-board pay increases have long-term fixed costs, yet fail to address existing pay disparities, or target mission critical recruitment and retention goals,” the White House wrote in a statement of administrative policy on the Senate minibus. “As proposed in the administration’s request for a workforce fund, the administration continues to support performance-based pay that is strategically aligned toward recruiting, retaining and retraining high performers and those in mission-critical areas.”

The Trump administration has said it sees its proposed workforce fund as a way to alleviate the impacts of a pay freeze. But neither the House nor the Senate have indicated they plan to develop and set aside resources for this workforce fund, at least not during the appropriations process. In its administrative statement, the White House said it looked forward to working with Congress to enact authorizing legislation to establish the President’s Management Council Workforce Fund.

The House version of the financial services and general government bill, which was one of six appropriations measures the chamber passed before leaving for August recess, does not include a raise for civilian employees.

The issue of federal pay will be one of many areas where the Senate will have to conference will the House. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated his desire to work through the appropriations process this year in “regular order.”

The Senate has already passed appropriations bills on energy and water and military construction and veterans affairs.

Senate leadership have agreed take up the defense, along with the health and human services, labor and education appropriations bills, as another “minibus” later this month.

“We’re trying to go through a normal appropriations process that prevents a big event at the end of the fiscal year, which has become all too common around here,” McConnell said during Tuesday’s press conference with reporters.

By Labor Day, McConnell hopes the Senate will have approved nine of the 12 appropriations bills. The goal, he said, is to conference with the House over those nine bills and ultimately send them to the president’s desk for his signature.

The Senate’s progress and McConnell’s plan come as Trump again threatened the prospect of a government shutdown in the fall if Congress didn’t set aside $5 billion to build a wall along the U.S. southern border.

Trump made similar threats over border wall funding last year. Congress twice sent agencies into shutdown mode in February and January after it failed to pass new spending bills ahead of several continuing resolution deadlines.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association applauded the Senate’s passage of a federal pay raise.

“This pay raise is important to keep federal pay from falling even farther behind that of the private sector,” NARFE President Richard Thissen said Wednesday in a statement. “Now more than ever, competitive federal salaries are sorely needed to confront hiring needs, as 40 percent of the current workforce is eligible to retire in the next three years.”