federal workers

President Trump says there’s not enough in the budget to give federal workers a raise, despite passing a $1.5 trillion tax cut package last year.

Even though the approximately two million people who work for federal agencies were scheduled for an automatic 2.1 percent pay raise in 2019, Trump made the decision Thursday to freeze it.

“I have determined that for 2019, both across-the-board pay increases and locality pay increases will be set at zero,” Trump wrote in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin). “These alternative pay plan decisions will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well qualified federal workforce.”

“We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” he continued. “In light of our nation’s fiscal situation, federal employee pay must be performance-based and aligned strategically toward recruiting, retaining and rewarding high-performing federal employees and those with critical skill sets.”

The letter is a reversal from prior administration policy. Last year, Trump approved a 1.4 percent pay raise for federal workers, and stated that he would not freeze the scheduled pay bump in 2019. However, military members will still keep their scheduled 2.6 percent pay raise for 2019.

While it’s easy to think most federal workers are in Washington, DC, Governing magazine reported that nearly 80 percent of the two million people on the federal government’s payroll work outside of DC. California alone has 250,000 federal employees, and another 200,000 are in Texas.

Stiffing federal workers on their scheduled raise due to a lack of available money is noteworthy, given that Trump and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate pushed through a $1.5 trillion tax cut package late last year despite warnings that the resulting lack of revenue would severely impact the federal budget. The bulk of those tax cuts went to multinational corporations and wealthy Americans. According to Vox, 83 percent of the benefits laid out in the bill went to the richest one percent of Americans.

Even though Wall Street titan Goldman Sachs benefited significantly from the tax cuts, the firm predicted the tax cut bill would make the U.S. budget deficit blow past $2 trillion by 2028. Republicans’ 2018 budget proposal suggested cutting Medicare and Medicaid funding by $1.7 trillion in order to pay for their tax cuts, which essentially amounts to a redistribution of wealth from the elderly and working families with children, to the very rich.

It’s likely that if he wanted to, Trump also could have found the money to fund federal workers’ scheduled pay raise somewhere in the $717 billion military budget he recently signed into law.


Jake Shepherd is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. He enjoys poring through financial disclosure statements, spirited debate, and good scotch. He remains eternally optimistic about the Browns. Email him at jake.d.shepherd.21 (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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