Federal employees would receive 1.9 percent raise under spending agreement
By ERIC YODER | The Washington Post | Published: February 13, 2019
WASHINGTON — Federal employees would get a 1.9 percent pay raise as part of the far-reaching spending bill that Congress is expected to pass by week's end to keep the government operating, according to three Democratic lawmakers active in federal workplace issues.
A measure due to be introduced late Wednesday to fund federal agencies that otherwise face a second partial shutdown starting Saturday will include a raise of that amount, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters.
That would override the salary rate freeze that President Donald Trump imposed on federal employees in late December because Congress had not acted. And it would still be below the 2.6 percent hike the House approved two weeks ago.
"We passed a bill as you know at 2.6, which is parity with the military. I think it should be 2.6, and in the future I will pursue that and other members will pursue it. But in this bill, it's going to be at 1.9 percent," Hoyer said.
"While we review the details of this bipartisan package, my hope is that we can agree on a deal to keep government running and allow our federal employees to do their jobs - with a 1.9 percent cost of living increase," Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said in an emailed statement.
"I am glad to hear that the funding bill will include the 1.9 percent pay raise for federal employees that my Senate colleagues and I have long called for," Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said in an emailed statement. "This modest pay raise-that the Senate voted to advance more than six months ago-is the very least we can do for these dedicated workers."
The congressional agreement would pull together and finalize seven spending bills for nine Cabinet departments and dozens of other agencies that just came through the longest partial shutdown in U.S. history at 35 days.
The pay raise was one of several issues arising Wednesday as Congress worked to craft specific language reflecting a bipartisan leadership agreement on border security and other matters that could pass both chambers and gain Trump's signature. Another, whose outcome was less clear, was whether the measure should provide back pay for contractor employees who also went unpaid during the shutdown. Warner said Wednesday he will push for inclusion of a proposal that would add money to existing contracts to help lower-paid contractors.
Back pay for federal employees has already has been approved, although many have not yet received their full amounts.
Among the measures in the deal is the one covering general government matters, where annual federal pay raises are specified. Because that bill had not been enacted by the end of calendar year 2018, the salary rate freeze Trump had sought went into effect by default, finalized by an executive order he issued near year's end. However, enactment of a law providing for a raise would override that order.
Last year the House in effect consented to a freeze but the Senate voted for a 1.9 percent average increase starting during the first pay period of 2019, beginning Jan. 6. The two never resolved that difference and the bill expired with that session of Congress.
In recent weeks, the House with Democrats now in charge approved a 1.9 percent hike in passing spending bills aimed at staving off another shutdown. Senate Republican leaders did not bring up those measures, but the Senate did endorse that figure in a measure of its own that ultimately failed to advance. Most recently, the House voted for a 2.6 percent hike in a separate bill, which the Senate also has not considered.
The earlier bills specified the raise was to be paid retroactive to the beginning of the first pay period of this year. It is not clear whether the new bill will also seek a retroactive raise.
Federal employees were paid raises retroactively in 2003 and 2004 during the George W. Bush administration when final agency funding similarly hadn't been resolved until past the start of the new year. In those cases, raises that had been paid by default in early January were overridden by larger ones.