It’s been years since I graduated college, but somehow the month of December always feels like the last week or so before the fall semester ends, that last-minute dash to study for exams and write final papers before packing it up to head home for the holidays.
I imagine the feeling may be mutual for you and maybe those in Congress too.
So let’s take a look at the end-of-the-year to-do list.
First, there’s the issue of government funding. Current funding expires Dec. 11, and while congressional leaders have agreed on topline spending figures for a broad omnibus budget package, they haven’t revealed much else. Congressional leaders were apparently optimistic about a full omnibus spending package before the Thanksgiving holiday, but the positivity has waned.
Lawmakers may kick the can down the road and pass another temporary stop-gap by the Dec. 11 deadline, or congressional staffers may pull a few more all-nighters and draft up an omnibus early this week.
Next, there’s the annual defense policy bill, which contains a couple key provisions for the civilian federal workforce. NDAA conferees unveiled a final agreement late last week, but President Donald Trump has threatened to veto it.
Then there’s the Covid-19 relief package, where the outlook seems to change by the hour. As of Friday afternoon, there was optimism. By the time you read this on Monday, things could look very different.
For federal employees, all this means the prospects of a government shutdown, their agency budgets and to some extent their 2021 pay still remain up in the air.
Yes, you may have heard the White House last week expressed support for a federal pay freeze in 2021.
“In the context of budgetary constraints and the recent, pandemic-related impacts on non-Federal labor markets, the administration supports the policy in the bill to maintain for 2021 the current level of federal civilian employee pay,” Russ Vought, director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in a letter last week to Senate appropriators.
Senate Republicans had included a federal pay freeze as part of their 2021 appropriations offers, which they unveiled for the first time well into 2021.
If you’ve been watching this space, this really shouldn’t be too surprising. But it is the first time the administration has expressed definitive support this year for a federal pay freeze.
The American Federation of Government Employees described the White House statement as an effort to “stick it to government workers.”
“The fact that President Trump backtracked on his promise of a pay increase is insulting to the federal workers risking their lives on the front lines of this pandemic to ensure government services go uninterrupted, our prisons stay secure, our military stays ready, airline passengers stay safe and our veterans get the care they need,” Everett Kelley, AFGE national president, said in a statement.
We’ve documented before how past and current administrations have changed their minds when it comes to federal pay. And we’ve explained how yes, there’s still time for Congress to legislate a federal pay raise in a continuing resolution or omnibus spending package.
We’re just not sure Congress wants to.
No federal raise (or freeze) is official until the president signs an executive order setting pay rates for the following year.
A pay freeze isn’t welcome news for feds in any year, but as employee groups have pointed out, it’s especially tough to swallow when much of the workforce will be expected to repay their Social Security taxes this coming January.
Oh, and speaking of the president’s payroll tax deferral, one senator attempted revive the topic last week on Capitol Hill.
Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) went to the Senate floor Thursday afternoon to speak about it — and try to pass legislation by unanimous consent that would make the deferral optional for military members and federal employees.
The legislation has bipartisan support.
“I’ll remind our colleagues … that the Senate chose not to participate in this program, whether on a mandatory or a voluntary basis. The House of Representatives chose not to participate,” he said. “So it’s going to be interesting to hear senators say that they want to require members of our armed forces and federal employees to enroll in a program that this Senate decided was not good for the Senate staff.”
The attempt failed, with Van Hollen and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) briefly sparring over the proposal and Covid-19 relief. Daines said he favored forgiving the deferred payroll taxes during this four-month period altogether.
“If the senator or others want to introduce legislation to have a payroll tax holiday for those who have been enrolled in this program for the last four months, go ahead,” Van Hollen said.
To be clear, there has been no serious attempt in Congress to forgive deferred payroll taxes for federal employees or military members, and with so little time to accomplish even the biggest priorities before the year ends, expect it to stay that way.
Nearly Useless Factoid
Polar bears can kill you with their claws, their teeth, or their … liver? One gram of polar bear liver contains three times as much vitamin A as the average human can withstand. Eating the liver results in acute hypervitaminosis A. European explorers in the late 1500s reported symptoms including drowsiness, sluggishness, irritability, severe headache, bone pain, blurred vision, vomiting, and skin peeling ranging in intensity from flaking around the mouth to full-body skin loss.