Will much of the government close? Congress must answer that question by the end of the month. Raising the nation’s borrowing cap also calls for Congress to act soon. Funding for Hurricane Harvey relief is another matter demanding urgent attention.
Federal employees prefer some issues get no congressional attention.
Trump’s proposed budget, for example, would hit federal retirement in numerous ways, including one that would result in an effective 6 percent federal pay cut over six years. It would require most staffers to contribute more toward their retirement fund with no increase in benefits. The House budget plan directive to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to find $32 billion in savings over 10 years is a direct threat to federal compensation. One bit of good news for feds — last week, Trump made his proposed 1.9 percent pay raise all but certain, unless Congress acts to stop it, which is unlikely. Paychecks should be a little fatter starting in January.
Where does this leave federal employees, who make whatever Congress decides work? We asked Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, for some clarity. We’ve also made unfulfilled interview requests to new committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). Here are Cummings’s thoughts:
How likely is a government shutdown?
“The American people don’t want Republicans to shut down the government over a border wall that President Trump promised repeatedly they would not have to pay for — especially now in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. With only 12 legislative days before the end of the fiscal year, I hope my Republican colleagues will work with Democrats on a clean funding bill that avoids a shutdown. If the Republicans shut down the government over the border wall or for any other issue, it will only highlight their inability to govern effectively.”
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has a broad mandate, and federal employees are often at its center. Despite major political differences, Cummings had a good working relationship with former chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). The failing grades on federal union voting scorecards for Gowdy provide clues on what feds can expect under his leadership. What does Cummings expect?
“I don’t have a clear sense of the direction Chairman Gowdy might take, but Republicans have targeted federal workers for years. President Trump has now proposed a budget with $100 billion to $200 billion in cuts to federal pension benefits, the House Budget Resolution directed the Oversight Committee to cut retirement benefits by $32 billion, and Chairman Gowdy has asked the Congressional Budget Office for ideas on shrinking the federal retirement system. Democrats oppose efforts to undermine workers who protect the American people from terrorists, ensure the safety of our food and water, and save us from natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey.”
In addition to proposed federal retirement cuts, Trump wants significant budget reductions for agencies across the government. Those cuts would seriously hamper the ability of federal employees to fulfill their public service mission. Perhaps playing to wiser Republican heads on Capitol Hill, Cummings said he is hopeful Trump’s spending plan is rejected.
“Congress is under no obligation to enact President Trump’s proposals, and I hope more sensible minds in Congress will understand the need for Republicans and Democrats to work together to fund agencies at the levels they need to carry out their critical missions.”
Asked what he expects with President Trump’s proposed agency budget cuts and federal retirement, along with Republican efforts to undercut civil service workplace protections, Cummings was succinct:
“Republicans have been very clear that they will try to cut the pensions and take away the workplace protections of federal workers, such as veterans and disaster relief workers who are right now saving lives in Texas.”
Democrats have little power in Congress, but Cummings said they will use it to defend federal compensation and workplace protections.
“Democrats will continue to fight to ensure that federal workers receive the pay and benefits they deserve and to protect our civil service from political pressure and influence.”