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Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger

Representing the 2nd District of Maryland

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The Hill: Partial shutdown, pay freeze reveal administration’s attitude toward federal workers

Jan 4, 2019
Op-Ed

If it wasn’t already abundantly clear that President Trump has little regard for the federal workforce, it should be now.

President Trump last week issued an executive order canceling a modest 1.9 percent raise for federal workers, even as 800,000 of them are either furloughed or working without pay during this partial government shutdown – the third in a year.
To affected workers who may be struggling to pay rent, President Trump’s administration suggests you simply ask your landlord if you can do some painting or carpentry instead. Barter, or “consult with your personal attorney,” the Office of Personnel Management advised in a tweet.

The only thing missing was a middle finger emoji.

But this is just the latest in a relentless assault against our dedicated workers – the men and women who keep us safe when we fly and cut Social Security checks for retirees. They clean our national parks and monitor nuclear power plants. They inspect our food and medications and issue our tax refunds. These are real people, with real families to support.

They’ve already endured other pay freezes, government shutdowns, benefits cuts and furloughs from sequestration.

Then came President Trump, who proudly imposed a federal hiring freeze on his first day in office and slashed 9,000 federal jobs in his first six months. He also tried to make it easier to fire federal employees, an effort that was later struck down in court.

Civil servants are already doing more with less: federal employment levels have only risen by 10 percent over the past several decades, compared to a national population that has increased 67 percent in that same period.

And they are already doing more for less: Federal employees have lost $200 billion in pay and benefits through legislation passed since 2011 and are earning nearly 5 percent less today than they did at the start of the decade.

As a successful businessman, President Trump should know you’re only as good as your people and that freezing pay reduces our ability to attract the best and brightest talent.

I represent a state that is home to more than 60 federal agencies and more than 146,700 federal workers – 23,000 of which are currently furloughed or working without pay. And I’m hearing from them, daily. First, they cut back on their holiday spending. Now, as this senseless shutdown enters its third week, they’re choosing between putting gas in their car or food on the table. None, by the way, have indicated that their landlords are willing to exchange services for rent.

As a congressman who represents tens of thousands of federal workers and contractors, I’m mad about the whole situation. But there are two things in particular that really stick in my craw. First, President Trump says the pay raise he’s scrapping would have cost $25 billion. Too much, he said.

Yet this President’s tax reform law that provides the wealthiest Americans and corporations with enormous tax breaks will cost our country $190 billion a year for the next decade and add $1.4 trillion to our national debt, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Budgeting is a science of priorities, and it’s clear where the president’s priorities lie.

Second, the pay freeze for average civil servants goes into effect just as President Trump’s Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries, top administrators and even Vice President Pence are set to receive annual pay raises of about $10,000 a year. It’s audacious, hypocritical and simply unfair.

This week, I joined a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives in passing legislation that will reinstate a modest 1.9 percent pay adjustment for federal employees. I implore our colleagues in the Senate to take up this bill – which will also end the partial government shutdown – immediately.

I urge our president to then sign it into law and to cancel the scheduled pay raises for his own political appointees. This is about fundamental fairness, and so much more. It’s about finally showing our civil servants the respect they deserve.