Just in time for the midterm elections, Donald Trump has some bad news for 1.8 million Americans: he wants to scrap the pay raise they were scheduled to receive.
President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he was canceling pay raises for most federal employees that had been set to go into effect in January, citing government budget concerns.In a letter to House and Senate leaders, Trump wrote that he'd decided "across-the-board" pay raises as well as locality pay raises for civilian federal workers in 2019 would be frozen.
The president justified the move by arguing, "We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course."
This was almost certainly the wrong way to defend a misguided policy.
In terms of the fiscal debate, the nation isn't on an especially "fiscally sustainable course," not because of modest pay increases for federal workers, but because Trump and congressional Republicans just approved a $1.5-trillion tax cut package, which disproportionately benefited the wealthy and big corporations.
GOP policymakers made no effort to offset the cost of the tax breaks, which is why even the White House projects a $1.1 trillion deficit in the next fiscal year, and an additional $8 trillion in cumulative deficits added to the national debt over the next 10 years.
These are the same Republican officials who also passed significant spending increases, including the boost in military spending that Trump routinely exaggerates.
All of which makes today's White House a little tough to stomach. "We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course"? Exactly which efforts are being "maintained"? Trump and his cohorts have blown a hole in the budget; they're poised to run some of the largest non-recession deficits in American history; and the president has decided public-sector workers should sacrifice their raises in order to shield tax breaks for billionaires.
Politico's report on Trump's decision added, "Under Trump's policy, roughly 1.8 million people won't get an automatic pay boost next year, including Border Patrol and ICE agents."
Just last week, the president hosted an event telling Border Patrol and ICE agents how much he "appreciates" them. I wonder whether they'll feel appreciated when their paychecks fail to keep up with inflation.
It's worth emphasizing that Trump's announcement today may not be the final word on the subject. Government Executive reported this afternoon, "The announcement comes weeks after the Senate included a 1.9 percent pay increase for federal workers in one of its minibus spending bills, and after the House in its own legislation did not broach the issue of federal compensation, effectively endorsing the pay freeze. Next week, both chambers will begin negotiations to iron out the differences between the two versions of the spending package. If Congress chooses to adopt the Senate's proposed pay increase, that would effectively override Trump's pay freeze."
In other words, the fight isn't over just yet.
Postscript: Keep an eye on the actions of Republican members of Congress who represent a lot of federal workers. (Virginia's Barbara Comstock, I'm looking in your direction.) GOP incumbents are already facing electoral headwinds ahead of this year's midterms, but with a Republican president scrapping scheduled raises for nearly 2 million Americans -- for no good reason -- I expect vulnerable GOP lawmakers to push back aggressively in the hopes of rescuing their careers.