House passes shutdown-averting spending bills, federal pay raise

The House on Tuesday cleared the first hurdle needed to avert a second holiday government shutdown this year with the passage of two massive “minibus” spending bills.

One “minibus” includes a 3.1% average federal pay raise for civilian employees, as well as a smattering of other policy and spending priorities. Both spending bills, which easily passed the House Tuesday afternoon, would fund all government for the rest of fiscal 2020.

Specifically, the deal includes a 2.6% across-the-board increase in base pay with an additional 0.5% in locality adjustments, for a total average of 3.1%. If passed into law, raises would go into effect on the first applicable pay period of the new year.

The president must still issue an executive order instructing agencies to physically implement new locality pay rates. In the past, this executive order has come late in December, once the Office of Personnel Management has finalized pay tables for all 53 distinct locality areas.

The minibus with the federal pay raise, which includes four appropriations bills, covers spending for the the Defense Department, as well as the departments of Homeland Security, Commerce, Justice, Treasury and others. It passed the House with a 280-138 vote.

second “minibus,” a package of eight appropriations bills, covers the departments of Agriculture, Labor, Education, Interior, Transportation and State, as well as Veterans Affairs, and Housing and Urban Development, among others. It cleared the House with a 297-120 vote.

The Senate is expected to consider both bills shortly. Congress must pass and send both minibus spending bills to the president’s desk for his signature before the current funding deadline ends Friday, Dec. 20 at 11:59 p.m.

“I strongly urge the president to sign these bills,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday from the floor. “Federal employees in my district and in every congressional district in the country deserve better than to be told to go home without their paychecks.”

If the 2020 adjustment does clear the president’s desk, it will be the largest federal pay raise employees have seen in at least a decade. Civilian employees last came close to such a raise back in 2008, when they received a 3.5% pay adjustment.

The 3.1% federal pay raise is also in line with the pay adjustment members of the military will receive in 2020.

If and when the president signs these spending bills into law, federal employees have the chance to score two big wins to close out 2019: a 3.1% average pay raise — and new paid parental leave benefit.

The Senate on Tuesday sent the annual defense authorization bill to the president’s desk for his signature. The bill includes up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees, a new benefit which employee unions and lawmakers have called “historic.”

“History will rightly record this moment when the federal government finally gave its workforce the ability to welcome a new child into their homes without sacrificing their financial well-being,” Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a statement. “This is one of the most consequential workplace benefits granted to federal employees in many, many years and NTEU is honored to have been a part of this important movement.”

The spending bills do not, however, include language that would have prohibited agencies from implementing or enforcing any collective bargaining agreement, term or article that wasn’t mutually agreed to by both a department and its federal union.

The House had included this language in its version of the financial services and general government appropriations bill, which cleared the chamber back in June.

In crafting this language, House appropriators were likely drawing from the experience of several employee unions over the past year. The departments of Health and Human Services, and Education have both implemented proposals that their unions — the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees — said they never agreed to.

“AFGE will continue to fight for this legislation as our members’ rights remain under assault by this administration,” Everett Kelley, the union’s national secretary-treasurer, said Tuesday in a statement.

Congress did, however, direct the Federal Labor Relations Authority to examine the impacts of the president’s executive orders on collective bargaining, official time and employees.

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