Tuesday, November 30, 2010


President Obama proposed freezing all civilian pay for two years yesterday.

“Getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifices, and that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government,” Obama said in a White House speech. He called federal workers “patriots who love their country” and said the cut is not just “a line item on a federal ledger.” But he said he is asking federal workers to sacrifice for the country as “they’ve always done.”

The president’s proposal comes just before a fiscal commission he appointed is scheduled to issue a final report Wednesday on how to staunch deficit spending. The panel’s leadership has recommended a three-year pay freeze for most federal workers.

The freeze, which must be approved by Congress, would be the first two-year halt to federal raises in modern history. With health insurance premiums for civil servants set to jump 7.2 percent on average next year and a federal transit subsidy to be cut by half Dec. 31, the plan will amount to a pay cut for many workers.

I suppose it’s better than the alternative — after all, the president could follow the model of some government entities in some places and actually cut their workers’ pay by shortening the number of days that they work — but the savings will be very little in the overall scheme of the budget, and the sacrifice on the part of the workers, with rising costs, won’t be appreciated. The public already believes — falsely — that government employees make a lot of money already.

The political benefits to the president are minimal. This is a gesture on his part to the GOP that he’s willing to compromise, and he’s expecting that they will offer something similar in return. Good luck with that. The GOP already thinks they have some kind of mandate to cut more taxes for the rich and screw the unemployed out of more benefits, and so far the White House’s efforts to kill that beast have been along the lines of “Gee, you might be right.”

This is in advance of the so-called “Slurpee Summit” at the White House today between the president and GOP leaders from the Hill. My guess is that at the end of it, Mitch McConnell will poke his head out of his shell and proclaim that while they tried to make headway with the White House on such things as the Bush tax cuts, New Start, and whether or not Bristol Palin gets another shot at Dancing with the Stars, the president wouldn’t give them any more room and so they can’t negotiate with a president who has already caved into them on just about everything. (I predict that there will be a negative press release from John Boehner’s office before the meeting is even over.) After all, what’s the point of bargaining with someone who doesn’t have anything else to give up?