Federal pay freeze just an empty gesture

President Barack Obama has endorsed a two-year salary freeze for federal workers. He and his allies in Congress and the liberal media portray this is as a significant concession to resurgent Republicans on Capitol Hill.

In fact, Obama might as well be using a milk jug to bail out the Titanic — the freeze is estimated to save only about $5 billion in an annual federal budget of more than $3.5 trillion, including a $1.3 trillion deficit. In short, Obama is trying to pass off a temporary savings of one-twentieth of 1 percent of total federal expenditures as a serious move against Washington, D.C.’s federal spending and debt crisis.

The president pulled a similar stunt in April 2009, one week after tea party activists announced plans for their first nationwide protests. In response, Obama ordered federal agencies to cut $100 million, thereby demonstrating that he failed to understand why citizens were organizing protests against his profligacy and that of his Republican predecessor in the White House.  

Beyond its minute impact on the federal budget, a pay freeze for civil servants does nothing about the growing gap between government and private-sector compensation, and the need for sacrifice by public employees. During the first 18 months of the current recession, the number of federal workers earning six-figure salaries went from 14 to 19 percent. And while unemployment in the private sector zoomed to double figures, Obama added more than 141,000 federal jobs, a 7 percent increase. Average total compensation for federal workers is now $123,049. That is double the private-sector average when a sweetheart benefits package worth four times what Joe Six-Pack has is included in the calculation. The Obama freeze does nothing about these exorbitant benefits, and nothing to keep federal bureaucrats from being given raises through promotions
or bonuses.

Meanwhile, there is bipartisan support for proposals to make Washington’s work force share more of the economic pain afflicting the rest of the country. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, proposed an across-the-board 10 percent federal pay cut, and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., called for federal workers to be furloughed without pay for two weeks in 2011.

Further, Coffman and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., called for cuts in congressional salaries — he wants to chop 10 percent and she wants 5 percent. The president, congressional Democrats and Republicans must understand that November’s election results mean everything has changed since 2008 when Obama promised “a net federal spending reduction.”

Voters will no longer accept simply talking about cutting federal spending and debt — they expect concrete results. In short, stop the word games.

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