Fedweek

Some aspects of the Trump administration’s President’s Management Agenda, now getting its first close look on Capitol Hill, were included in the White House budget proposal but three months later, their prospects for approval as part of that process are no clearer.

Those ideas include a general salary rate freeze, extending waiting periods for within-grade raises by a year at each step, and a $1 billion fund for performance rewards and incentive payments in high-demand occupations. The freeze could be accomplished through simple congressional inaction: if Congress takes no position on a raise for the following January, the White House proposal takes effect by default. However, the proposed reward and incentives fund would require an appropriation from Congress and stretching out within-grade raises would require a change in law, and they have not been described in enough detail for Congress to make such a change.

Several other proposals that were included in the budget recently were detailed as proposed legislation—to require higher employee contributions toward retirement and to reduce the value of retirement benefits in several ways, some affecting only those retiring in the future. However, their prospects for enactment remain uncertain.

The House Appropriations Committee has started to produce regular spending bills for the fiscal year starting in October, with the Senate to follow. Meanwhile, the House committee overseeing the Defense Department has drafted its version of the defense budget and the Senate is set to follow suit this week. None of the measures produced so far would directly impact federal retirement benefits, however, although there have been persistent rumors of a bid to attach the administration’s proposals to the defense bill.

Another possible vehicle would be a budget resolution, an outline of spending and policy goals for the appropriations bills; such measures commonly set goals for other committees to achieve savings of certain levels and suggestions of how they achieve them. A group representing most House Republicans recently recommended that many of the benefit-cutting proposals from the White House be included in this year’s blueprint, which the House Budget Committee could yet produce—even though it already is months overdue.

That outline would not have the force of law, however, leaving final enactment to a second go-around. Last year the measure as passed by that committee and later by the full House would have required the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to produce $32 billion in deficit reduction over 10 years in programs under its control. It suggested achieving that goal in similar ways. However, that plan advanced no farther as the Senate drafted a counterpart designed only to create authority to change tax policy with only a simple majority vote there. The House dropped its provisions in order to assure that version’s enactment.

This year it is unclear whether the Senate will even take up any counterpart blueprint, since Congress reached a two-year agreement earlier this year on general spending policies that can be used to write the fiscal 2019 appropriations bills.