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Republicans and Democrats Hope to Reverse Federal Worker Pay Freeze

Rog Cogswell / Creative Commons

About 40% of the U. S. House of Representatives has asked President Trump to rescind his plan for a pay freeze for the federal work force next year and instead give them a pay raise.

Many lawmakers from both parties were left scratching their heads when the president recently unveiled his plan to freeze the pay of hundreds of thousands of federal workers, many of whom live in the commonwealth.

“I’m not sure it was well thought out,” admits Southwest Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith who is a member of the fiscally conservative House Freedom Caucus. He says freezing wages doesn’t make sense right now. “Well, you know, one of the nice things is the economy is booming. Wages are going up nationally. There will be therefore some upward pressure on pricing. That’s natural to follow and the federal employees ought to be able to at least keep up with what we’re going got see is some mild inflation.”

Republican Scott Taylor is a veteran who represents the Virginia Beach area. While the proposed freeze isn’t on the military, Taylor says in his region you can’t easily separate civilians from the military installations they support. "The reality is that they haven’t had a raise in a while and you know, in our area we have federal workers, thousands of them, who support a national security apparatus, and they deserve it so we are asking him to reconsider.”  

Taylor says it’s also not good for the Commonwealth’s economy. "It hurts them personally and their families and stuff like that because obviously cost of living has gone up and they haven’t had a raise so it definitely hurts them individually and it doesn’t help the economy obviously”

Taylor helped spearhead a letter asking the president to reconsider the pay freeze along with Northern Virginia Congresswoman Barbara Comstock. She says it’s time for the federal workforce to actually get a pay raise."We’re asking for the freeze to be rescinded and to put the pay increase back in there as earned and as they’re entitled to.”

Comstock and others are trying to get the president to view the federal government as a large corporation. And she says you can’t freeze pay and attract the most talented people that the government needs. “That is not good for our region but even more importantly because the economy’s doing so well now it’s a very competitive work environment we need to keep the talent in the federal workforce and in order to do that we have to have competitive salaries.”

Eastern Virginia Republican Rob Wittman is also working with Comstock and Taylor to rally lawmakers to get the president to back down. Wittman says he’d rather see the president focus on streamlining federal agencies and cutting in places that truly need it – not just an across the board freeze.  “Well, I’m opposed to it. I think it’s grossly unfair to our federal employees," Wittman says. "You can’t balance the federal budget on their backs. I think there are other ways we can look to save money to create efficiencies. I don’t think you can do that with a work force that hasn’t gotten a pay raise in a number of years so I would disagree with him.”

It’s not just Virginia lawmakers who have rallied to protect the federal workforce. So far more than 180 House members from both parties have signed letters asking for the pay freeze to be scrapped. Northern Virginia Democrat Don Beyer says he thinks the president miscalculated because federal workers are spread across all 50 states. "We have 30% of the federal employees in greater metro Washington but 70% are in the rest of the country. Every congressional district has federal employees and I think this is a dead on rival proposal."

The bipartisan group of Virginia lawmakers are hoping the letters work in getting Trump to back down, but if not they’re prepared to fight for the pay increase in the spending process and they’re quick to point out that the Constitution gives Congress ultimate control of the federal purse strings.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

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