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Trump Orders Pay Freeze In 2019 For All Civilian Federal Employees

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees have gone without pay for more than a week now. And the financial squeeze may outlast the partial government shutdown. President Trump has ordered a pay freeze in 2019 for all civilian federal employees. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The president's been telegraphing his plans for a pay freeze for almost a year - first in his annual budget and again last summer in a letter to Congress. Trump pointed to the government's dire fiscal situation. Thanks to tax cuts and increased spending, the deficit has ballooned to more than a trillion dollars this year. It's just bad timing that the president's formal order for the pay freeze comes in the midst of the partial government shutdown. Some 800,000 federal workers are already furloughed or required to work without pay.

JACQUELINE SIMON: It is adding insult to injury.

HORSLEY: Jacqueline Simon's with the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal workers union.

SIMON: Just to put an exclamation point on the fact that the administration doesn't really have any concern whatsoever for the economic well-being of 800,000 middle-class families.

HORSLEY: The president's penny pinching on civilian workers stands in marked contrast to his professed generosity towards the military. Just last week in Iraq, Trump falsely claimed to have boosted military pay by 10 percent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I had plenty of people that came up. They said, you know, we could make it smaller. We could make it 3 percent. We could make it 2 percent. We could make it 4 percent. I said, no. Make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent.

HORSLEY: In fact, service members are getting a pay raise of 2.6 percent this coming year. And Simon says their civilian counterparts welcome that.

SIMON: Of course, the military deserve their pay increase, and we're strongly in favor of it. And, in fact, for many, many years - decades, even - there was parity between the civilian and the military workforces in terms of their pay adjustments.

HORSLEY: For the last two years, though, paychecks for civilian government workers have grown more slowly than those in the military. And the president's pay freeze would widen that gap if it stands. But Simon's counting on lawmakers to undo Trump's order. The Senate has already OK'd a pay raise for federal workers of 1.9 percent. And the new Democratic House is expected to follow suit. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.