Senate defies Trump’s civil service pay freeze

By on 08/08/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
The Senate has approved a 1.9% pay rise for US civil servants, and will now negotiate with the House of Representatives in a bid to put its proposal to the president.

A spending package including a 1.9% pay rise for US federal employees in 2019 was approved almost unanimously by the Senate last week, running counter to President Trump’s wish to freeze civil service salaries.

Senators voted 92 to 6 in favour of the $154.2bn spending bill which, as well as the pay rise, combined fiscal 2019 spending plans for financial services and general government, Interior, housing and urban development, agriculture, and transportation.

The Senate has a tiny Republican majority, with the party holding 51 of the 100 seats. Its vote moves US federal workers one step closer to a pay increase for fiscal 2019 – but there is still a way to go before the rise is confirmed.

Trumping Trump

In February’s budget proposal, the Trump administration made it clear it wants to see pay frozen across the federal civil service, calling for performance-related pay to be introduced instead. This stance was further reiterated at the end of July in a statement released by the White House in response to the Senate’s planned bill.

The statement said: “Across-the-board pay increases have long-term fixed costs, yet fail to address existing pay disparities, or target mission critical recruitment and retention goals.

“As proposed in the administration’s request for a workforce fund, the administration continues to support performance-based pay that is strategically aligned toward recruiting, retaining and retraining high performers and those in mission-critical areas.”

Senatorial spenders

Last month the House approved a spending bill which made no mention of a hike in pay, effectively backing the White House position. Now that the Senate vote has gone through, the next step will be negotiations between the two chambers. The question is whether the proposed federal workers pay increase will survive as they broker agreement on the wider budgetary issues.

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) praised the Senate vote and urged Congress to keep it in the forthcoming compromise.

NTEU National President Tony Reardon said: “The federal workforce is made up of middle class families around the country who are just like private sector workers and need their paychecks to keep up with the rising cost of living, Congress is right to reassert its control over how the federal workforce is compensated and not allow the White House to disrespect federal employees.”

Freeze may thaw

In order for the pay increase to go ahead Congress would need to include it in the final bill sent to the president. The Senate vote jumps one hurdle; however, without Congress taking action the pay freeze still stands.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) also applauded the Senate for passing the bill. In a statement issued by NARFE, its President Richard G. Thissen said:

“Approval of a 1.9% pay raise for federal employees begins the process of countering the administration’s proposed federal pay freeze in 2019. Without congressional action federal pay will be kept stagnant by the Trump administration, which has clearly stated its intention to freeze federal pay for calendar year 2019.

“NARFE expresses its sincere appreciation to the Senate for advancing this modest pay increase. We look forward to working with Congress toward the final passage of this necessary provision.”

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.


  1. Charles Eldredge says:

    Covenant cop6ays are way out of control and have been for 4 decades at least. I’m thankful for President Trump’s desire to curtail spending. Merit based pay is the only thing that makes any sense.

  2. Ada Dumire says:

    I hope he veto it . They make too much money know for no more than they do.

    • Time Guy says:

      I did nothing for 35 years. Timing and navigation for our subs and missiles, we won the Cold War. Oh yeah, I worked on the timing foundation of GPS. GPS another wasteful federal project.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *