As President Trump continues to feel the heat from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, he’s taken refuge in touting America’s booming economy. “Consumer Confidence Index, just out, is the HIGHEST IN 18 YEARS!” the president tweeted on Wednesday. “Also, GDP revised upward to 4.2 from 4.1. Our country is doing great!” The economy is doing so great, in fact, that the president on Thursday announced he plans to cancel pre-scheduled raises for federal employees in order save American from financial ruin. Funny how that works.
In a letter addressed to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Trump cited a state of “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare” to explain why the 2.1 percent pay increase scheduled to take effect in January is “inappropriate.” Trump also nixed a scheduled “locality pay increase,” a yearly paycheck adjustment based on where in America a federal employee is based. “I have determined that for 2019, both across the board pay increases and locality pay increases will be set at zero,” the president wrote.
The two million federal workers who would be affected can still get their raises if Congress passes a spending bill that includes them. The Senate recently passed a bill that features a 1.9 percent pay increase, but the House of Representatives has yet to address the issue of a raise for federal workers. “This pay raise is important to keep federal pay from falling even farther behind that of the private sector,” the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association said in a statement released after the Senate’s bill passed in August. “Now more than ever, competitive federal salaries are sorely needed to confront hiring needs as 40 percent of the current workforce is eligible to retire in the next three years.”
The letter issued Thursday is far from the first time Trump has tried to screw over government workers. The 2019 budget proposal he sent to Congress in February included a pay freeze for civilian federal workers, and in May he signed three executive orders aimed at curtailing the power of federal unions. Last week, a federal judge struck down many of the key provisions in those orders. “We are very pleased that the court agreed that the president far exceeded his authority, and that the apolitical career federal work force shall be protected from these illegal, politically motivated executive orders,” Federal Workers Alliance co-chair Sarah Suszczyk said in a statement.
The president sent a similar letter to Congress in August 2017. As he did a year ago, Trump wrote on Thursday that “we must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course.” But as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias pointed out on Twitter, freezing pay increases doesn’t actually save the government money.
What happens is, reducing expenditures on employee pay frees up extra money under the cap for appropriators/agencies to play with.
That might be a good idea depending on what the money gets spent on, but it doesn’t save any money in total.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) August 30, 2018
Regardless of what the government stands to gain from freezing employee pay increases, Trump earnestly preaching the need for fiscal responsibility is pretty rich. His tenure in the Oval Office has been ridden with careless, unnecessary expenditures. He’s spent recklessly on defense, pushing to throw down money for fighter jets like he’s toy shopping on Fifth Avenue. Earlier this year, he demanded the Pentagon plan an expensive military parade, which he ultimately decided to cancel. In July, he was forced to set aside $12 billion to bail out farmers after his ill-advised tariff plan crippled the agriculture industry. Members of his Cabinet, the wealthiest in history, have been roundly criticized for wasting taxpayer money. As reports of former Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt’s habit of blowing government money on gaudy accoutrements mounted — like custom fountain pens and desks totaling tens of thousands of dollars — Trump stood by his side.
The most glaring affront to Trump’s professed desire to save the government money is the $1.5 trillion tax cut he signed last December. The cut, which is geared toward aiding the wealthiest Americans, is expected to wreak havoc on the federal deficit, which Trump has repeatedly promised to remedy. “It is outrageous and hypocritical that after spending billions of taxpayer dollars on unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations — and as the president boasts about the ‘great’ state of the American economy, that suddenly the White House finds that there is zero money left to pay a minimal cost-of-living adjustment to the patriotic, dedicated public servants,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) wrote Thursday in a statement.
Though Trump justified the salary freeze by citing a “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare,” it shouldn’t be long before the he once again tweets that the United States is in the best financial shape of its history.