As the Senate prepared to vote on Wednesday, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and several other Democrats sought to attach a raise to the bill but were prevented by the Republican leadership of that chamber.
The measure is now before the House, where a similar attempt could be made.
“We’re encouraging Congress to include the modest 1.9 percent pay adjustment in the final spending deal, and we are working with our allies in the House to get it included in any deal they pass,” J. David Cox Sr., American Federation of Government Employees president, said in an email.
The House in its version of the earlier bill included no language on a raise, in effect favoring a freeze. Under the complex federal pay law, if Congress remains silent, the White House’s recommendation takes effect by default. In an August message to Congress, Trump said that if Congress takes no position, he would set the default raise at zero.
By that time, the Senate already had voted in favor of paying a 1.9 percent raise, setting up a conference with the House on that bill. At one point in the process, House Republicans tentatively agreed to support a raise. However, that bill has not come to a final vote.
Even before the Senate vote Wednesday on the new temporary measure, Van Hollen raised the prospect of attempting to pass a pay boost early in the new Congress and make it retroactive.
“I was disappointed last night that the Republican leadership refused to include a modest cost-of-living adjustment for federal employees, which had already passed the Senate earlier this year on a bipartisan basis,” he said in an emailed statement Thursday. “But the fight isn’t over. Negotiations on a long-term funding deal will begin as soon as Congress is back in session in January, and I will keep pushing my colleagues in both the House and the Senate to end Trump’s pay freeze on hardworking civil servants.”
“There is strong, bipartisan support for giving the nation’s frontline, middle-class civil servants a pay bump in return for their dedication and service,” National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon said in a statement. “If necessary, NTEU will build on the current momentum in the 116th Congress for a retroactive pay increase when legislators finish the 2019 appropriations bills early next year.”
There is precedent for paying a federal employee raise retroactively. It was done in 2003 and 2004 during the George W. Bush administration when final agency funding similarly hadn’t been resolved until past the start of the new year. In both cases, a raise had been paid by default in early January but was overridden by a larger one contained in a later full-year appropriations bill.
Federal pay raises take effect with the first full pay period of a year, which for most federal employees will begin Jan. 5. The raise as originally passed by the Senate called for splitting the 1.9 percent into across the board and locality-based components, which probably would yield raises in the 1.7-2.3 percent range, with the Washington-Baltimore area in line to receive one of the larger increases.