Just days after the end of a five week partial government shutdown, the House comfortably voted Wednesday to overrule an executive order issued in December by President Donald Trump, as Democrats sent the GOP Senate a bill which would authorize a 2.6 percent pay hike for civilian federal employees, matching a 2019 pay raise approved by the President for members of the military.
“Congress can override, and Congress should override this executive order,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who represents thousands of federal workers in his suburban Washington, D.C. district.
The vote was 259-161, as 29 Republicans broke ranks to vote for the pay raise measure.
In debate on the floor of the House, Democrats argued there was no reason that federal civilian employees should be treated differently than those at the Pentagon.
“They need a pay raise, not a pay freeze,” said Raskin, as lawmakers noted this would be the largest civilian pay raise for federal workers since 2009.
In debate, Republicans questioned the pay increase with two arguments – first, that in times of large deficits, no pay hike is needed – and second, that more efforts at merit pay for high-achieving workers is necessary.
A procedural effort by GOP lawmakers to focus the bill only on merit pay matters was defeated by the House.
“We’re talking about not an insignificant amount of money in this bill,” said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA). “I want good work to be recognized with good pay.”
“Why the rush to put this bill on the floor?” asked Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), as Republicans said there should have been hearings on the plan to override the President’s decision, labeling the Democratic plan a ‘messaging bill.’
“Regardless of how you perform, we’re going to give everybody the same increase,” Meadows said, arguing poor performers shouldn’t be rewarded in the federal work force.
“I’m against this bill,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who argued federal workers are making too much money as it stands. “How is that fair?”
Republicans also reminded Democrats that President Obama froze federal worker pay for three years, in 2011-2013, as union officials said federal workers have fallen behind the private sector in recent years.
“Federal employees earn nearly 5 percent less today than they did at the start of the decade, incurring over $200 billion in cuts to their pay and benefits since 2011,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr.
While there is support for this pay raise measure in the Senate, it’s not clear if the bill will be considered – and even if approved – whether it would be vetoed by President Trump.
The pay raise for federal workers would not apply to members of Congress. Their salary of $174,000 has not changed since 2009.