Capping off a tumultuous week in a continuing confrontation with federal workers, President Trump announced Thursday that he was invoking emergency authority to cancel pay increases scheduled for next year.
At the same time, Trump planned during a Friday appearance in Charlotte, North Carolina, to direct the Labor and Treasury departments to issue regulations created to make it easier for small businesses to pool resources so they can offer retirement savings plans to their workers, administration officials told reporters. "The final decision will be made as part of the congressional budget process - if House members and senators agree on a pay hike before the end of the year, Trump's letter will be moot and a raise will take place anyway", The Washington Post's Eric Yoder reports.
In his letter, Trump stressed a pay freeze would not affect the federal government's ability to attract qualified workers, and wrote the government would focus on "recruiting, retaining and rewarding high-performing Federal employees and those with critical skill sets".
"How about we start with scaling back and paying for the tax cuts and spending bill, which together will add $400 billion to next year's deficit, alone", wrote Marc Goldwein of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Trump informed House and Senate leaders in a letter on Thursday. The Senate has already voted for a 1.9 percent pay raise for civilian federal employees in 2019, but the House version of the spending bill does not include that increase.
Trump explained the move in terms of the national debt, now more than $21 trillion, and the annual deficit, expected to be $804 billion in fiscal 2018.
Under the current law, federal employees would have gotten an across-the-board increase of 2.1 percent starting in January 2019.
This is not the first time in recent history that a president has frozen civilian federal pay raises.
The only other period when the federal government ran deficits above $1 trillion was the four years from 2009 through 2012, when the government used tax cuts and increased spending to combat the 2008 fiscal crisis and the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. That's wrong - and it disrespects the important work done throughout our country by federal workers.
Why it might not matter: Congress could still override Trump's decision.
The president says that federal employee pay should be based on performance and should not involve fixed pay increases.
He said the 1.9 percent pay increase would "help prevent workers from falling further behind next year and help federal agencies recruit and retain the high-caliber workforce that the public expects and deserves".
As noted in my Budget for Fiscal Year 2019, the cost of employing the Federal workforce is significant.