Tag: federal pay raise

Trump Federal Pay Freeze Makes No Sense Whatsoever

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Last Thursday and Friday was a reelection nightmare for Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA).

Just as it was starting to be reported that the GOP establishment might divert financial resources away from Comstock to other Republican reelection races, President Donald Trump put a political shiv in her attempt to win a third term this November by announcing his unilateral decision to cancel the across-the-board pay and locality pay increases for 2 million federal civilian employees and, therefore, harm a great many of the congresswoman’s constituents.

The potential redistribution of GOP campaign support was mostly of interest to contributors and other political insiders, but Trump’s pay freeze was an economic and emotional slap in the face to the thousands of federal employees and the many businesses that rely on them all across Comstock’s district in Northern Virginia. At virtually the same time the government was reporting that inflation had increased to 2 percent, a 6-year high, federal civilian workers were being told that their pay would not be increased to compensate for this loss in buying power.

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Comstock quickly issued a statement opposing the pay freeze, but that’s not likely to undo the Trump-caused damage to her reelection. The reality was that Comstock had been unable to prevent a President from her own party not just of taking aim at a substantial number of her constituents but of making a direct hit on their livelihoods, and it was obvious.

The big question is why would Trump do this.

With polls showing that its House majority is very much in jeopardy this election and each currently held GOP seat is precious, making reelection more difficult for even one Republican representative makes no sense whatsoever. This is especially the case because of the reporting last week that the White House is starting to realize how a Democratic majority in the next Congress could investigate the Trump administration’s and family’s activities and policies in ways and to an extent the GOP has refused to do.

The pay freeze also makes no sense as a sop to Trump voters. While there’s little doubt that Trump saw the pay freeze as a way to demonstrate that he is punishing what he and his voters refer to as “the deep state” for its sins, denying cost-of-living adjustments is unlikely to be much of an issue for the president’s base. Trump might be able to use it as a throwaway line at one of his rallies, but his reelection will never depend on it.

It also makes no sense from a federal budget perspective. Although Trump said that fiscal responsibility was the sole reason he was implementing the pay freeze, the savings from doing so are tiny both in terms of a total federal budget that will exceed $4 trillion next year and its projected $1 trillion deficit.

Trump’s reduce-the-budget rationale for his federal pay freeze proposal also seems ludicrous in light of the trillion-dollar revenue loss from the tax bill he signed last year, his demand for $25 billion to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, the $12 billion cost of his decision to compensate farmers for the impact of his tariffs and the unestimated (but likely to be in the billions) cost of a space force.

Finally, the Trump pay freeze makes no sense because it will very likely be reversed by Congress. The Senate has already agreed to do exactly what the president doesn’t want by providing a cost-of-adjustment for federal civilian employees and House Republicans are very likely to support that given how vulnerable they are to losing their majority this November.

Some are suggesting that this was Trump’s plan all along by proposing something that Comstock and other Republicans with a substantial number of federal employees in their congressional districts and states take credit for reversing. And in response to GOP criticism he has already said he would “study” the issue.

But that strategy assumes the White House is capable of playing the political equivalent of multi-dimensional chess, that Congress will actually reverse the pay freeze, that the president will sign the legislation with the reversal in it and, most importantly, that the federal employees who vote in Republican-held districts will forget how angry they were by Election Day.

One or more of these assumptions is almost certain to be wrong. That has to make you wonder what Trump was really thinking.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy.

 

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Government Shutdown Fight This September Will Be All About Trump

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From everything we know about Donald Trump, he wouldn’t want this to happen any other way: A threatened or actual government shutdown at the end of this month is going to be all about him.

There’s not much time left for Congress to do everything that has to be done to prevent the government from turning into a pumpkin on September 30th at midnight. There are only 28 days left before the new fiscal year begins on October 1, but the House and Senate are only scheduled to be in session for 11 of those days.

And it’s not just that Congress has a great deal left to do, it’s that it hasn’t yet adopted any of the 12 appropriations for the coming year. Although the work on a few of these bills supposedly is nearing completion, in this highly partisan, highly emotional and high-political stakes environment where there are significant differences not just between Republicans and Democrats but also between House and Senate Republicans, being close to enacting any these bills may more wishful thinking than solid intelligence.

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In addition, in these take-no-prisoner days just before the election, “compromise” will be thought of as collaborating with the enemy rather than good legislating.

So there’s everything left to do, not much time left to do it and less incentive than might be expected to get it done.

The overwhelming likelihood, therefore, is that by October 1 Congress will need to pass and the president sign a continuing resolution to keep the government from shutting down.

In most prior years a CR would have been routine and noncontroversial. This especially would have been the case in a year like this with the House and Senate incumbents running for reelection wanting to get back to their districts or states, with control of the House and/or Senate in doubt, with the members of the current majority wanting few Washington-oriented controversies to interfere with their campaigns and with a lame duck session ahead where final funding decisions could be made.

But this year Congress is not in control of its destiny on a CR. Trump has given strong signals that he won’t sign a funding bill to keep the government open unless he gets what he wants, when he wants it and at the levels he’s demanding.

So far, Trump seems to want three things, all of which will allow him to demonstrate that he’s the straw that’s stirring the federal goverment’s drink.

1. His highest priority so far is the funding for the wall he wants built between the United States and Mexico. Informal estimates have put the cost as high as $30 billion but Trump has indicated he might accept $5 billion in this bill as a down payment.

2. Trump announced last week that, against the Senate’s wishes, he was freezing the pay for federal civilian employees.

3. His space force has been more ammunition for late-night television comedians than a serious conversation on Capitol Hill, but that may not stop Trump from demanding funds in this bill at least to start the planning process.

So far, Congress doesn’t seem inclined to grant Trump any of his three CR wishes.

It has already refused multiple times to provide funding for the wall. Given the serious reelection harm the pay freeze will do to GOP representatives from districts with a high number of federal employees, the Republican majority in the House is very likely to join the Senate and mandate the cost-of-living increases the president doesn’t want. In addition, there’s little-to-no interest on the Hill to do anything about the space force this year.

The whole question, therefore, is what will Trump do if he’s faced with one or more defeats on these three issues?

Up to now, he’s backed down every time. Trump has either accepted the GOP leadership’s promise to consider what he wants to do next time, has huffed and puffed that he wouldn’t sign a bill but then signed it any way or vehemently complained about the legislative process (especially the filibuster) when it prevented him from getting what he wanted.

Trump could keep easily keep this streak going and back down again. On the other hand, there are a variety of reasons this time could be different. For example:

1. The continuing legal threats are clearly increasing the president’s need to divert attention to situations — like a government shutdown — he can control.

2. Trump’s strategy for dealing with Mueller at least in part seems to be to do things that remind his supporters why they voted for him in the first place. Shutting down the government now would be the ultimate way to do this.

3. Having lost on the wall so often before might finally convince Trump that he’s not willing to be fooled again by the GOP congressional leadership.

4. Trump may think that, if there’s a Democratic majority in the House or Senate next year, this will be his last chance to get these things.

The shutdown situation isn’t likely to be decided until the very end of September for two reasons.

First, Congress will probably send the CR to Trump as close to September 30th as possible to limit his options. Adopting it the week before, for example, would give the president a free pass because he could veto it and demand changes without shutting the government.

Second, unless it’s delayed again, the second Manafort trial is scheduled to begin on September 24th and the White House may want to have a big diversion tactic like a shutdown ready to go just in case it is needed.

But no matter when this shutdown debate happens, and even though it’s supposed to be about funding levels, this shutdown fight is going to be far more about all things Trump than anything having to do with the federal budget.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy.

We Now Have To Add The Trump Federal Employee Pay Freeeze To The Reasons Trump Might Shut Down The Government

 

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Donald Trump has added another reason he might cause a government shutdown a month from now: no pay raise for federal employees of domestic federal agencies and departments.

Trump notified House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Thursday that he was cancelling the pay raise for the majority of federal civilian workers. (There was nothing to indicate that he was also cancelling the planned 2.6 percent increase for the military.)

Congress can, and in my estimation probably will, reject this. The House and Senate will likely put language that mandates the civilian pay raise in the continuing resolution that will be needed by October 1 to keep the government open.

The question then will be what will Trump with a CR that very openly defies him.

Vetoing the CR and shutting down the government is a real possibility.

The Senate has already approved a pay raise for federal civilian employees. The House is more than likely to go along with the Senate provision because not doing so would put Republican incumbents from districts with large numbers of federal employees in critical jeopardy of not being reelected.

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), who represents Northern Virginia, immediately comes to mind as a GOPer who would be in serious trouble if civilian employees were denied a pay raise. Not surprisingly, Comstock issued a statement opposing Trump’s freeze earlier today.

In an election where a Democratic takeover of at least the House is considered a definite possibility, making Comstock and several other Republicans more vulnerable and putting the GOP majority in further doubt makes absolutely no political sense.

There are two reasons why Trump would veto the CR and shutdown the government over this issue.

First, the CR would be abject defiance, something we know Trump doesn’t handle well or rationally.

Second, the pay raise is the kind of emotional issue that will appeal to Trump voters and, given Mueller et. al., Trump is likely to be eager to show his base that he’s more than willing to punish the federal government/deep state for all its sins.

That puts the civilian federal pay raise almost on the same level as the billions of dollars Trump is demanding to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico as a possible reason for a government shutdown this year. They’re both anything-but-substantive issues that Trump can use to remind his voters why they voted for him in the first place.

That means both that there are now two potential shutdown issues and that a Trump-induced government shutdown a month from today even more likely than it was before.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy