The House on Wednesday again endorsed a 1.9 percent average federal employee raise for 2019 and for back pay for employees who have been furloughed during the ongoing partial government shutdown, as part of a new tactic aimed at ending the shutdown.
The vote on the general government bill as a stand-alone measure follows passage last week of a larger appropriations measure—including that bill and five others—with the same provisions. The House has scheduled votes on several of the other unfinished appropriations bills over the next several days.
Last week’s measure had been designed to end the partial shutdown in one move by providing full-year funding for all agencies other than DHS—which would have received temporary funding through February 8. However, that stalled when it reached the Senate—a fate that appears to await the House’s new strategy of moving to reopen agencies in a series.
In addition to setting policies on general federal workplace policies, the general government bill funds financial agencies, the central management agencies, the federal employee appeals agencies and some other smaller agencies. It had been put first in line because it would restore IRS funding, a response to the uncertainty over whether the agency would pay out tax refunds on time.
However, the administration meanwhile moved on its own on that issue by deciding the agency could do so despite being mostly shut down, and said it will recall to work a “significant portion” of furloughed IRS employees. The IRS has not said how many employees are to return, or when. They would remain in non-pay status while back on the job until funding is restored, like other employees there and in other affected agencies who have continued working but without pay.
The Senate had approved a 1.9 percent raise last year but a fresh vote is needed there for it to be sent to Trump—who has repeatedly opposed any raise but has not threatened to veto a bill providing for one. If enacted into law, the raise would be retroactive to January 6, the start of the first full pay period of the year when raises normally are effective.
While employees in shuttered agencies who have been on the job since the partial shutdown started December 22 are guaranteed back pay, those furloughed will receive it only if it is enacted into law. The Senate voted last year in favor of that, as well, but a new vote there similarly is needed.
The measure also would reinstate a longstanding freeze on salaries for political appointees that expired January 5, putting them in line for raises of thousands of dollars as catch-up increases. Those raises will not be paid at least for the meantime, though.
As with the prior wrapup bill, the short-term prospects for further action on the newly passed House bill seem poor. The Senate Republican leadership did not bring the broader bill to a vote on grounds that Trump would not sign it, and there appears to have been no movement on the underlying issue of border wall funding that would change that position. Senate Democrats, though, are pressuring the GOP to hold votes on bills to reopen agencies by using a procedural move to prevent that chamber from acting on any measure that does not do so.
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