President Trump’s executive order denying a general federal employee pay raise for 2019 does not necessarily end the chances of one being paid, although it does further reduce the already questionable prospects.
The order, issued Friday, was no surprise given that the administration had called for a freeze starting with its budget proposal in February and several times afterward. Employee organizations, though, were quick to call it something of an insult added to injury since the government is in a partial shutdown that has put some 800,000 employees on unpaid status.
Those organizations and their friends in Congress are pushing for the new Congress starting Thursday (January 3) to quickly enact the 1.9 percent raise that the Senate approved in the summer. Under Democratic control, the House is much more likely to consent to paying that raise than it had been through 2018, when it first agreed to a freeze and then later seemed open to allowing a raise.
Under a plan announced by Democratic leaders to end the current partial government shutdown, all the unfinished appropriations bills except for the one covering DHS would be packaged and passed for the remainder of the current fiscal year, with a 1.9 percent raise included. Funding for DHS meanwhile would be extended only through February 8, at current levels without the administration’s requested border wall funding.
While those measures could move through the House quickly, their treatment by the Senate is uncertain. Republican leaders there have said they will not bring up for votes any bill that President Trump would not sign. While the Democratic strategy would separate the raise issue from the border wall issue, now that Trump has issued a formal order to impose a freeze, signing a bill containing a raise would amount to not only changing his position but also reversing something that already has been done.
At this point, if a raise is to be paid as of the normal effective date—the first day of the first full pay period of a calendar year (this year, January 6)—it almost certainly would have to be paid retroactively. That can be and has been done, although the need to reprogram payroll systems likely would push the actual payout several weeks beyond the date of enactment.
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