WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said he would freeze the pay of federal workers next year, saying the nation can’t afford the 2.1% raises that would have gone into effect without presidential action.
In a notice to Congress Thursday, Trump cited “serious economic conditions” in cutting pay to civilian workers. “We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” Trump said.
It would be the first pay freeze for civilian federal workers since 2011 to 2013, when President Barack Obama instituted a three-year pay freeze as the nation recovered from the recession.
But Trump’s pay freeze comes even as he touts a booming economy. “The news from the Financial Markets is even better than anticipated,” Trump tweeted just hours before announcing the pay freeze. “More good news is coming!”
Under federal law, federal employees get cost-of-living raises every new year – in addition to specific increases in high-cost cities called “locality pay” – unless the president determines those raises would be “inappropriate.”
Among the factors the president can consider: economic growth, unemployment, various measures of inflation and the budget deficit.
The federal budget deficit has grown 16 percent this fiscal year, the result of a combination of Trump-supported tax cuts and military spending, as well as increases in mandatory spending programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The national debt – the accumulation of those budget deficits – has increased nearly $1.6 trillion over the past year, to $21.4 trillion.
Congress can override the president’s pay freeze through legislation. This month, the Senate voted of 96-2 to approve its version of a spending bill that would fix across-the-board civilian raises next year at 1.9 percent.
Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, called Trump’s move “deeply disappointing” and an indication that the Trump administration “simply does not respect its own workforce.”
The pay freeze comes less than a week after a federal judge in Washington overturned parts of three Trump executive orders attempting to curtail the power of federal labor unions and institute merit-based pay systems for federal employees.
U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said Trump didn’t have the power to force changes to union contracts because they would violate the collective bargaining rights federal employees have under the law.
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