WASHINGTON — The partial government shutdown may have cost hundreds of thousands of civil servants their paychecks but it will provide raises of $10,000 or more to senior officials in the Trump administration.
As first reported by the Washington Post, the raises are a result of expiring salary freezes on many senior government officials, including cabinet members and the vice president.
The pay freezes date back to the Obama administration and have been continually extended by Congress in yearly spending bills. Those provisions were included in the 2019 spending bills that President Donald Trump is refusing to sign over a dispute with Democrats on border wall funding. With nothing new passed, the freezes expire on Jan. 5 and the executive salaries revert back to their statutory amount. That means six years’ worth of deferred raises will kick in for hundreds of senior officials.
This has put the Trump administration in an awkward spot, given that the president opposed modest annual pay raises for civil servants this year as an “inappropriate” strain on the budget and instead signed an executive order freezing their salaries. Pence said Friday he would reject collecting his raise during the shutdown. Trump said he “may consider” asking other appointees to do the same.
A shutdown resolution — whenever that happens — would likely reinstate the pay freeze. But as long as the current situation persists, the officials will draw higher salaries. Trump mused Friday at a White House press conference that the shutdown could extend months or even years.
In the meantime, it doesn’t seem that there is anything that can be done about the situation. Unlike average government employees, the salaries of senior political appointees are approved by Congress and written in statute, so the president cannot override them. These statutes were never actually changed over the years. Instead, Congress passed a separate provision lowering payments to the frozen rate.
The salary freezes have long been contentious. Congress introduced them during the Obama years as an austerity measure, angering some Democrats who saw the move as politically motivated.
Now the Trump administration is in power and, under the approach that turnabout is fair play, Democrats have fought to keep the salary freezes in place. The spending bill passed by House Republicans last year lifted the freezes. The Senate’s spending bill, which has to be negotiated with Democrats, did not.
Both bills included 1.9% annual raises for the general civil servant population, and Republicans tried to tie those to raises for executive salaries. But Democrats refused.
“We view that as being really unfair because the Republicans put this in to punish the Obama administration,” said Evan Hollander, spokesperson for Nita Lowey, the incoming Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee.