Federal workers shouldn't get pay raises in 2019, President Donald Trump said in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday.
Trump said he would be implementing an "alternative" pay plan for the federal workforce to keep the country on a "fiscally sustainable course." The plan calls for reducing the scheduled across-the-board raise of 2.1 percent to zero, as well as eliminating all locality pay increases, which are based on regional costs of living.
"These alternative pay plan decisions will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well-qualified Federal workforce," Trump said in his letter, without elaborating on why that would be the case.
Unaffected by Trump's order are members of the military, who are still slated to get a 2.6 percent pay bump.
Trump said he was using his authority to negate the federal-employee raises in the event of "serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare." While that might suggest a national emergency, Trump brags almost every day about the strong economy under his watch.
But Trump's letter to Ryan (R-Wis.) bemoaned the country's "fiscal situation." It t made no mention of the tax cuts implemented by Trump and congressional Republicans. That measure slashed the corporate tax rate and is causing the federal deficit to soar.
Congress does not have to agree to Trump's pay-raise freeze, and could still implement a hike through its appropriation or budget processes. The Senate already proposed an alternative across-the-board pay hike of 1.4 percent in its budget bill; the House's bill did not include a hike.
Still, the president's move opens another chapter in his feud with the federal workforce. His administration has tried to make it easier to fire federal workers, reduce their ability to bargain collectively and nudge them into retirement to trim the federal payroll.
A federal judge over the weekend struck down key portions of three executive orders Trump signed taking aim at federal workers. The judge ruled that the efforts to more easily fire workers and alter how unions collectively bargain for them ran afoul of civil service law. The lawsuit challenging the orders was brought by a group of federal labor unions.
Zero pay raises for the federal workforce are not unheard of. A three-year pay freeze between 2011 and 2013 was in effect under then-President Barack Obama. (He sought to lift the freeze in 2012, but Congress stymied that effort.)
That pay freeze, like this one, was attributed to the need for belt-tightening. But in that case, the economy was still crawling out of the wake of the Great Recession.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Congress had approved a 2019 pay raise for the federal workforce. It was just the Senate, not the House, that has done so.