Sen. Cardin ‘hopeful’ to reach 3.1% raise during approps conference

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The Senate’s 2020 spending bill may be silent on the issue of federal pay raises, but that’s not stopping certain senators from speaking out. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he and other senators from the National Capital Region are pushing for the 3.1% raise passed by the House, rather than the 2.6% raise proposed by President Donald Trump.

“We should have parity between the civilian workforce and the military workforce,” Cardin said on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “That was violated last year, and we should not let that happen. We have a 3.1% built into the military, that has already been fairly well agreed upon. So the civilian workforce should get a 3.1% adjustment. The House bill as I understand adds up to that 3.1%. The Senate bill, because it’s silent, adopts a 2.6%, which is a half percent less. I am hopeful that we will get the 3.1%.”

By not seeking to set an alternate rate, Senate appropriators are essentially deferring to the proposal President Trump offered late last month, which recommended a 2.6% across-the-board federal pay raise, but no additional locality pay adjustment. Trump’s Aug. 31 announcement was a surprise, as the President had initially recommended a federal pay freeze in his 2020 budget proposal.

Pay for the vice president, political appointees and members of the Senior Executive Service would be frozen at 2019 levels, according to the Senate proposal.

Cardin said he’s also hopeful that discussions about the pay raise, as well as other negotiations that need to occur before a full 2020 budget can be passed, can be wrapped up by early October. He said there aren’t that many differences in the numbers, just a few matters of policy to reconcile. Congress has until Nov. 21, when the current continuing resolution expires.

“I am confident that left to their own way the Democrats and Republicans can come to an agreement on almost all of the appropriation issues … certainly before the CR expires in November,” Cardin said. “There are a few areas that are going to have to be negotiated that are much more difficult. The top of that list will be what to do about border security.”

But one thing working in favor of making an agreement is that last year’s agreement to keep “poison pills” out of appropriations bills still stands. Poison pills are amendments that attach policy requirements to appropriations bills. The problem is the definition of poison pills is somewhat vague and open to interpretation by participants. Cardin warned that definition is likely to change this year, with the House and the Senate under leadership of different parties.

For example, Cardin said there’s some work in the appropriations process to ensure funds can’t be used to move the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, two subcomponents of the Agriculture Department, out of the Washington, D.C. area.

“The Congress was not notified, I don’t think the Congress would have approved this transfer,” Cardin said. “We think it was done wrong, it was challenged from the point of view of whether it’s legal or not, and that issue, it’s not totally resolved. But there’s great discretion within the executive branch and what they can do. It’s wrong, these workers should remain here in the Washington area, they should not be transferred halfway across the country. It’s not in the interest of the mission that they carry out. And we are still trying to block it.”

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