After being rebuffed in an attempt to peel back the union protections of federal workers, President Trump took aim elsewhere on Thursday: at their paychecks.
Invoking authority that he and other presidents have used previously, Mr. Trump told Congress he was canceling government pay increases scheduled for next year.
Congress has the power to override his decision, however, and unions representing government workers called on lawmakers to do so.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Mr. Trump said the government would forgo an automatic 2.1 percent pay increase for federal workers scheduled for Jan. 1 and specified that there would be no across-the-board increase for 2019. The letter did not estimate the overall savings from canceling the raises, though it said a related move canceling raises that are based on the workers’ location would save $25 billion.
“We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” the president wrote.
But if Congress passes a bill with a pay increase and Mr. Trump signs it, the increase would take effect despite the president’s letter. The Senate has approved a bill that would increase pay for federal workers by 1.9 percent, but the House of Representatives has not embraced that figure.
Earlier this month, Mr. Trump signed a 2.6 percent raise for troops into law as part of a larger military spending package.
Mr. Trump’s letter came days after a federal judge struck down key provisions of three executive orders the president had signed in May that had made it easier to fire federal workers and limited the power of their unions. The administration appeared to be dragging its feet this week on complying with the judge’s orders, with some agencies telling managers and union officials that the new policies remained in effect until further notice.
Many legal experts were puzzled because the orders were supposed to apply immediately.
But while saying it was still considering further action in the case, the administration acknowledged at least a temporary setback on Wednesday, when the Office of Personnel Management put out updated guidance that rescinded the portions of the instructions that the judge had struck down.
Union officials in at least one agency, the Social Security Administration, exulted as they were told that they would be allowed back into offices that managers had evicted them from when the executive orders took effect this summer.
Mr. Trump’s use of emergency authority to weigh in on pay increases for federal workers is a common occurrence. The president did so last year to scale back a raise, and President Barack Obama took action the year before to rein-in location-based adjustments.
Still, unions and Democrats on Capitol Hill saw the president’s call for a pay freeze — shortly before Labor Day — as an attack on civil servants.
“It is unacceptable that after last year signing a Republican tax bill that gave away tens of billions in corporate tax cuts and added more than $1 trillion to the national debt, President Trump cites the need for government belt-tightening in his decision to slash a planned pay increase,” Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, said in a statement.
J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, issued a statement saying that blocking a raise for federal workers “ignores the fact that they are worse off today financially than they were at the start of the decade.”