Editor’s Note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House. He was a consultant to Priorities USA Action, which was a pro-Obama super PAC before it was a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.
President Donald Trump ran for office as a populist. He swore to fight for the “forgotten men and women,” a phrase he stole from FDR. But under his presidency, the middle class remains forgotten – hammered is more like it.
President Trump’s announcement that he wants to cancel the 2.1% pay raise for federal workers is just the latest assault on the middle class.
He sent a statement to Congress on Thursday saying we can’t afford to give our people a measly 2.1% bump because – are you ready for this? – “We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases.”
Donald Trump is now worried about the debt. Are you kidding me? That’s like John Dillinger worrying about gun violence. Like Kim Kardashian worrying about being overexposed. Like Donald Trump worrying about spray-tanning and pathological lying.
President Trump championed a tax cut that spends $1.5 trillion on the forgotten corporate class. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, when the GOP tax bill is fully implemented, an astonishing 83% of its benefit will flow to the top 1%.
The President’s answer to the fiscal meltdown he is causing is not to ask those who’ve gotten the most to pay a little more. It’s to hurt the folks who are already serving us.
Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, home to numerous federal workers, both in the D.C. area and the Norfolk naval region, called BS on Trump’s newfound fiscal prudence.
“Let’s be clear,” Warner wrote in a statement, “the President’s decision to cancel any pay increase for federal employees is not motivated by a sudden onset of fiscal responsibility. Today’s announcement has nothing to do with making government more cost-efficient – it’s just the latest attack in the Trump administration’s war on federal employees.”
The American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents 700,000 of the 2 million federal workers, is vowing to fight. “Federal employees have had their pay and benefits cut by over $200 billion since 2011, and they are earning nearly 5% less today than they did at the start of the decade,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. in a press release. He plans to push Congress to go over President Trump’s head and mandate the pay hike.
I hope they win. After all, you get what you pay for. Do you want your overworked air traffic controller to be missing meals and feeling faint? Do you want your Social Security check being handled by someone who’s holding three jobs? How about bridge inspectors and meat inspectors and the folks who fight forest fires? Or the scientists and doctors who are working around the clock to find cures for Alzheimer’s and cancer and HIV/AIDS?
Should they get a pay cut? Do you want the men and women who take on the drug cartels to be worried about making their rent payment? Really?
Worse still, President Trump wants to end what’s known as the “locality pay increase” – an annual adjustment to assist federal workers in parts of the country where the cost of living is high – like, say, the neighborhood Trump Tower is in. So TSA agents at LaGuardia Airport in New York, medical researchers in Atlanta, Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Los Angeles, homeland security professionals in D.C. – all will suffer.
Of course, while federal workers struggle, President Trump has made a fortune from government assistance. One analysis by The New York Times estimates Trump received $885 million in tax breaks from New York alone. And that doesn’t count the millions he’ll get from the tax cut he signed.
Meanwhile, the Secret Service agents who protect his life, the household staff that makes his bed, women and men who patrol the border he’s always yapping about – get shafted. Federal workers are patriotic; nearly one-third of them are veterans. Many of them do work that is difficult and dangerous – and almost all of them do work for which they are rarely thanked.
You might even say they’ve been forgotten.