WASHINGTON – Amid the current partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to freeze pay for federal workers in 2019.
The move is consistent with Trump's budget proposal and a notice to Congress in August, when he cited "serious economic conditions" in cutting pay to civilian workers. “We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” he said at the time.
Trump signed the executive order late Friday afternoon. The military would not be affected.
Trump and federal lawmakers are still collecting paychecks during the partial shutdown, but many federal workers are not. Congress generally votes to pay federal employees retroactively after shutdowns, but this one is expected to drag on into the new year as Trump pushes for funding for a wall across the southern border.
(Trump donates his salary to different government programs.)
“This is just pouring salt into the wound,” said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments. “It is shocking that federal employees are taking yet another financial hit. As if missed paychecks and working without pay were not enough, now they have been told that they don’t even deserve a modest pay increase.”
The Senate passed a 1.9 percent increase for federal workers, but the House did not act.
The new Congress could vote to give federal employees a raise. If Trump's decision is allowed to stand, the pay freeze would affect about 2.1 million federal employees, including most of the executive branch, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union.
“We fully expect the new Congress to enact the modest 1.9 percent adjustment for all of 2019 which passed the Senate and received substantial bipartisan support in the last Congress,” said J. David Cox, AFGE’s president, in a statement. “There is no economic or budgetary justification for the President’s freeze and lawmakers agree that federal pay must rise not only as a matter of decency, but also in order to help agencies attract and retain the federal workforce that America deserves.”
Most federal employees work outside the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, according to the latest numbers published by Governing magazine. Topping the list of states with largest share of federal employees: California (250,000), Texas (200,000), Virginia (178,000) and Maryland (147,000).
It has taken decades, but it appears that anti-government crusader Grover Norquist’s dream of cutting the government down to a size he can drown in a bathtub is on the verge of becoming reality. No doubt 2018 will go down as a watershed year for Republicans who finally have the authority to at least begin achieving one of the conservative movement’s raison d'être.
It has been the Republican Party’s wet dream to “devolve government to the local level” since FDR and the 1930’s New Deal and they took a giant step towards that goal with a massive gift to corporations and the wealthy who own them. In case there is any confusion, “devolve government to the local level” means abolishing the federal government in its entirety - including all agencies, acts of Congress, departments and programs created for “the general welfare” of the people.
Many Americans are either too stupid or have not been paying attention to the ulterior motive behind the GOP’s “monumental tax scam;” it goes beyond forcing the majority of population to fund corporate and religious entitlements or transferring the U.S. treasury to the oligarchs funding the Republican movement. Although those are crucial to the Republicans’ and Trump’s plan to make America great for the wealthy, they are not the only goal.
The larger goal is what Trump’s chief advisor Steve Bannon described as “deconstructing the administrative state.” Since Trump, the Kochs, and congressional Republicans are prohibited from issuing an edict abolishing all federal agencies, acts, departments and established laws, they will “defund the administrative state” instead.
Republicans will still collect taxes from working class Americans, but instead of funding federal agencies that serve the people, they will give those tax dollars to corporations and religious groups in the form of entitlements. When tax revenue stops covering entitlements for the rich and the religious, Republicans will “defund the administrative state” with extreme prejudice; that will be a major Republican goal in 2018.
Bloomberg reported yesterday that former Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said that Trump and congressional Republicans’ decision to add significant debt in the form of tax cuts for the rich is leaving the country broke. Mr. Lew said in a Bloomberg Radio interview that:
“It’s a ticking time bomb in terms of the debt. You cannot run a fiscal policy by spending trillions of dollars you don’t have at a time that the economy is doing well.”
Mr. Lew thinks that because Republicans created tax reform for the rich and corporations without Democrats’ input, it will be difficult for “the administration” to convince Republicans to fund any “basic functions of government.” For dog’s sake, Mr. Lew is smart enough to know “the administration” could not possibly care less about “a functioning government, deficit or debt, or whether children get thrown off healthcare;” Trump cares about Trump.
It isn’t clear which “administration” Mr. Lew was referring, but it was not Trump or any of his conservative cronies. It is no secret that Republicans pledged to the Koch brothers two years ago that when they controlled Washington they would “go after the federal government, all of it,” and “the administration” has done its part to begin the purge. At least Lew has been paying attention to congressional Republicans’ own statements about where they intend to start deconstructing the government and who they intend to hurt in the process. He said:
“The next shoe to drop is going to be an attack on the most vulnerable in our society. How are we going to pay for the deficit caused by the tax cut? We are going to see proposals to cut health insurance for poor people, to take basic food support away from poor people, to attack Medicare and Social Security. One could not have made up a more cynical strategy.”
The strategy was “made up” at least a couple of decades ago and of course, it is “cynical” by design. It is a conservative strategy that involves abolishing every last element of the New Deal and any federal program since leading up to today. The tax reform is vicious in enriching the already wealthy, but it is the permanent corporate tax cuts that will be the end of “basic government functions.” Remember, the corporate tax cuts are forever and they will allow a greater number of the biggest corporations in America to avoid paying taxes forever — by design.
John Cassady at the New Yorker fairly summed up what is going to happen. After noting the “tax reform” is already going to bring in much less revenue, he concurred with other experts that it is not only “unworkable,” it has already “launched an avalanche of new loopholes to exploit.” He explained:
“What isn’t yet fully appreciated is how porous and potentially unstable the rest of the tax code will be. With a corporate rate of just 20 percent, and a big new break for proprietors of unincorporated businesses and certain types of partnerships, the new code will contain enormous incentives for tax-driven restructurings, creative accounting, and outright fraud.”
Mr. Cassady said “these contortions” are designed to undercut federal revenues, which he acknowledges many Republicans welcome as an easy means of shrinking the federal government.
“The shortfall in tax revenues could be enormous. That is what Republicans want to happen. There are some in the Party who would like to see the tax base decimated, the I.R.S. crippled, and the federal government forced to slash spending on domestic programs, particularly entitlement programs. Nevertheless, for anybody who believes in a properly functioning government, a rational, clearly defined tax system is essential. The Republican reform doesn’t meet that standard.”
As one or two Americans might be aware, the concept of a “properly functioning government” is anathema to Republicans. Their idea of a functioning government is one that takes assets from the masses to fund “the security state, the religious state, the military state, and the corporate state.”
As this author has noted for a few years now, if any American wants a preview of how this “dismantling of the administrative state” plays out and the deleterious effects it will have on the people they can look at what happened in Kansas. Republicans gave massive tax gifts to the rich and corporations and raped the state government in the process by design. In fact, one Kansas Republican appealed to congressional Republicans barely two months ago and warned them to avoid Kansas’ tax cut disaster. However, true to his word to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Mitch McConnell and Republicans are “doing the exact same thing to the federal government” that Brownback did to Kansas because they control Washington.
It is an unpleasant fact that most Americans have no awareness that their government is under assault from the people they elected to “govern” on their behalf. It is a bigger travesty that many Americans are unaware exactly what their federal government does; Americans are inherently ignorant. But they will get a clue when their workplace protections, safe transportation, clean air and water standards, safe medicine, equal rights protections, education, healthcare, and national parks are abolished under the guise of reducing the deficit to pay for corporate tax cuts. It is what Republicans are celebrating will be a very Happy New Year.