Fedweek

Prolonged back and forth debate over a raise began when President Trump advocated a freeze this time last year

The Senate has not yet indicated how it will respond to House passage of a bill to provide federal employees with an average 2.6 percent 2019 pay raise, to be paid retroactive to January 6.

The House vote is the latest in a prolonged back and forth debate over the raise since President Trump 12 months ago advocated a freeze. That went into effect at year’s end when Congress had not legislated a figure but it still can be overturned. Several approaches are possible, possibly the least likely of which would be for the Senate to take up the House bill.

The measure might pass there as a stand-alone–the Senate took the lead last year in advocating to pay a raise of 1.9 percent despite Trump’s freeze proposal and the House’s initial consent to it, and the Senate recently again voted in favor a 1.9 percent raise. However, while the administration has not threatened to veto a raise, it might take that action on a stand-alone bill, especially since a freeze already is in effect and a veto could be presented as simply maintaining the status quo. While the bill passed with some Republican support in the House, it would not have been enough to override a veto.

The House vote further revealed continued partisan divisions over the issue. Democrats in effect forced Republicans to choose between supporting the higher amount or opposing a raise to workers who had just come through the longest partial government shutdown in history. Republicans countered by offering an amendment to deny raises to employees guilty of sexual misconduct, which while defeated, forced Democrats in effect to vote in favor of paying such people a raise.

The other main route to passage for the 2.6 percent figure would be to attach it to some other bill that is considered a “must-pass.” The primary option would be the general government appropriations bill, which the Senate passed last year and the House already has passed several times this year containing the 1.9 percent figure.

House leaders are urging the Senate to take up that measure–either as by itself or as part of a package; the House has passed it both ways–but no appropriations bills have moved in the Senate; they have been held up by the dispute over border wall spending that triggered the partial shutdown. Ultimately that bill will have to be enacted in some form to settle the budget for the rest of the current fiscal year.