Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 29, 2010

OBAMA TO FREEZE PAY FOR CIVILIAN FEDERAL WORKFORCE.... President Obama announced this morning his call for a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal workers, as part of a larger effort to reduce spending and cut the deficit.

The president's proposal will effectively wipe out plans for a 1.4 percent across-the-board raise in 2011 for 2.1 million civilian federal government employees, including those working at the Defense Department, but the freeze would not affect the nation's uniformed military personnel. The president has frozen the salaries of his own top White House staff members since taking office 22 months ago.

"Clearly this is a difficult decision," said Jeffrey Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and the government's chief performance officer. "Federal workers are hard-working and dedicated." But given the deficit, Mr. Zients added, "we believe this is the first of many difficult steps ahead."

The pay freeze will save $2 billion in the current fiscal year that ends in September 2011, $28 billion over five years and more than $60 billion over 10 years, officials said. That represents just a tiny dent in a $1.3 trillion annual deficit, but it offers a symbolic gesture toward public anger over unemployment, the anemic economic recovery and rising national debt.

For all I know, this might poll well. The public in general may like the idea of freezing these workers' pay, and the move will likely generate at least tepid praise from congressional Republicans.

But it's exceedingly annoying anyway, and I wish the White House wouldn't do stuff like this.

For one thing, it's really not what the economy needs. Granted, we're not talking about a lot of money, but to grow the economy, we need workers to have more money in their pockets, not less. A pay freeze is an anti-stimulus.

For another, if the White House expects a political reward for this, officials are likely to be disappointed. Remember the discretionary spending freeze the administration talked up in January? If memory serves, the public didn't notice and congressional Republicans complained anyway.

But what I would have really preferred to see is some kind of trade. If the president is willing to accept a civilian pay freeze, fine. I wish he wouldn't, but that's where he's prepared to go. But in exchange for this concession, Obama appears to be getting literally nothing in return.

This week, the president will sit down with Republican leaders from the House and Senate, and will say something to the effect of, "Well, I signaled a willingness to make a tough concession with the pay freeze. What kind of concessions are you prepared to make?" Boehner and McConnell will reply, "We're not willing to make any concessions at all"; the meeting will end; and we'll be left with 2.1 million Americans with less buying power.

The president has some extraordinary strengths. Negotiating tactics do not appear to be among them.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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it's as if obama is deliberately trying to continue to grow the enthusiasm gap.

it's also as if his intelligence is declining, because this is an exceptionally stupid measure, even by the standards we've seen over the last 2 years from his white house.

Posted by: howard on November 29, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

This is idiotic. It's about stimulus and jobs, not the deficit and this is anti-stimulus and anti-job.

Of course, if Rahm were still there this would have never happened...

Posted by: Mudge on November 29, 2010 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect they know the republicans were never going to make any concessions, so they decided to go it alone on this sort of silliness, because it probably plays well with the ignorant electorate.

This won't be the last time we see type of nonsense takes place in the next 2 years.

Posted by: Holmes on November 29, 2010 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Why in the world does Obama take stands that (1) are purely symbolic (this doesn't actually address the budget deficit in any meaningful way), and (2) only pleases people who wish for his destruction?

If you are going to make symbolic gestures, why can't they be either in support of your allies, or sticking it to your enemies?

Maybe he doesn't concede that conservatives are his enemies, and that they will never be won over?

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on November 29, 2010 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

He's a GOP plant.

Posted by: BrklynLibrul on November 29, 2010 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

This is not negotiation, it's capitulation.

Or, maybe Obama really truly does agree with Republicans that working people in America make too much money. Maybe he agrees with Republicans that government workers are bad and should be bashed.

This kind of stuff makes me want to give up on the Democrats entirely.

Posted by: AlphaLiberal on November 29, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

>>The president has some extraordinary strengths>>

Please remind me what they might be

Posted by: foosion on November 29, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

As Yglesias rightly pointed out on his blog, there are a lot of democrats in congress who actually buy the right wing's theories on economics, making the administration's job all the more difficult.

The left, myself included, tends to put all the blame on Obama's negotiating skills/backbone, or lack thereof, but some of the republican-lite democrats in the senate are probably more to blame.

Posted by: Holmes on November 29, 2010 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Similarly, the White House has been making noises about "earmark reform", which is just about the most bogus, inconsequential issue out there. I'm just feeling despair today.

Posted by: Ted on November 29, 2010 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Who is the person in the White House giving this idiotic advice? If this is all Obama, how can we get someone in his inner circle that will back him down from stupidity like this?

Posted by: DougMN on November 29, 2010 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Who says this was about getting something in return? It shows the public that he's serious and as the GOP hems and haws, the public will see they are not.

Sorry Steve, but you seem to be getting sucked into left wing nuttery. If you don't think he's good at negotiating then you shouldn't remind readers of all the things he's gotten done in the past two years in a congress where one party refused to work with him on anything.

Posted by: Alli on November 29, 2010 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with Ted today. Post turkey blues? So disappointing on so many levels.

Posted by: KK on November 29, 2010 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

As a republican, I assure you that we know that this is a meaningless, empty gesture.

Freezing federal employee pay is completely inadequate.

First, all federal employees should be given a 50% reduction in pay.

Second, all federal employees hire since this administration took office should be fired. Especially all who work in the White House. The only persons who should be allowed to remain on the payroll of the White House should be those loyal, deserving Americans who were hired during the Bush administration.

Third, as a true symbol of getting government spending under control, Obama should resign. But, only after all of his cabinet secretaries and Biden resign and are not replaced. Of course, to avoid a constitutional crisis, Obama needs to wait until The Honorable Congressman Boehner has become the Speaker of The House and would be next in line to become president.

Then, after we safely have a white, male republican as president, the debt crisis would be over, federal employees can get their full pay again, and we can again act on creating jobs!

We would never have had this debt crisis if we had elected a republican in the last presidential election!!!

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on November 29, 2010 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

But in exchange for this concession, Obama appears to be getting literally nothing in return.

I look forward to commenters making excuses for Obama and blaming Firedoglake.

Posted by: ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© on November 29, 2010 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

I don't get the complaints from the left. You say the deficit should not be a concern and then get mad when the president makes what you call "empty gestures" that won't bring down the deficit. DUH! let him do the empty gestures. He doesn't cut programs that will really hurt and It sounds good to the American people.

Posted by: Alli on November 29, 2010 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

But in exchange for this concession, Obama appears to be getting literally nothing in return.

Running up the white flag in advance is the hallmark of every political move this inept moron has done since he took office. I thoroughly regret the time I spent raising money for him. There was real hope and enthusiasm in this country that he was going to change things. I don't think I could raise a dime today from those folks who maxed out their allowed contribution levels, and who did so at personal economic pain because they wanted change and believed this man would bring it. Talk about building the enthusiasm gap.

And what's really awful about this is how awful the Republican will be who replaces him in 2012.

Posted by: TCinLA on November 29, 2010 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

My father coached my brother's little league team. Most fathers in that situation have their son play shortstop, pitch, and bat third. In a effort to make sure the other parents did not think my brother was getting any favors, Dad did the opposite and played my brother less than he should have based upon my brother's skill level.
Obama reminds me of my father in that way. He always wants to show how neutral he is by not favoring his own political supporters. But to protect is own aura of neutrality, he is actually going the other way and treating his own supporters unfairly.

Posted by: patrick on November 29, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK


Sorry to burst your bubble, but a lot more could have been accomplished if Obama was a more effective negotiator.

He came in with significant political leverage after the election, but was so concerned with appearing "bipartisan" that he prematurely cut the amount of stimulus before negotiation even began, then allowed it to be watered down with bullshit GOP tax cuts.

He did it again on healthcare by not allowing all proposals on the table that would have given him a lot more leverage to get a better result.

On numerous occasions, he has committed the cardinal sin in negotiating: never negotiate against yourself.

By never forcing the opposition to really defend their position, he has allowed them to solidify their public standing after the Bush years were about to send them out into the wilderness.

Posted by: bdop4 on November 29, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Once again I get to say "I told you so!" to all of the people who picked Obama over Hilary! Sad thing is, it gives me no pleasure! Bye Bye Dem's in 2012!We're Screwed!

Posted by: Mary Graham on November 29, 2010 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

He doesn't cut programs that will really hurt and It sounds good to the American people.

Posted by: Alli on November 29, 2010 at 12:59 PM

He's hurting 2.1 million people, the vast majority of whom do make very much money. Open your eyes, for a change.

Posted by: ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© on November 29, 2010 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

So what will this save .001% of the deficit?

Abolishing earmarks would result in a bigger deficit reduction. And yet the politicians are using that talking point as a reason not to do away with earmarks.


Posted by: Kill Bill on November 29, 2010 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

The general feeling out here in "real" America is those pointy headed Federal employees are the best paid in the country. A lot of people believe that they have never been asked to share in the pain. I would rather unemployment benefits be extended for another 26 weeks.

Posted by: Ron Byers on November 29, 2010 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Once again I get to say "I told you so!" to all of the people who picked Obama over Hilary! Sad thing is, it gives me no pleasure! Bye Bye Dem's in 2012!We're Screwed!

Posted by: Mary Graham on November 29, 2010 at 1:09 PM


There isn't a dime's worth of difference between the two DLC corporatists. We're screwed as long as the Democratic Party remains controlled by their kind.

Posted by: ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© on November 29, 2010 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

This guy is an idiot.

Posted by: SW on November 29, 2010 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Reading some of the wikileaked foggy bottom cables neither party gives a crap about the salus populi just their self sercing sociopathic control freakdom and warring with like-minded foreign sociopathic control freaks.

Posted by: Kill Bill on November 29, 2010 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

So now that Obama has does something which the Republicans should approve of, I wonder how they will spin this to make it into a negative for him. There is no pleasing them, no matter what he does.

Posted by: sheridan on November 29, 2010 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

re SW: Which of the multitude to chose from idiots are you referring to?

re Mary Graham: Each morning I thank my god that John McCrap is not the president of the United States. Each morning I twice thank my god that Billary Clinton is not the president. I do NOT thank my god that Obama is the president. I am still quite thankful that Billary (DLN/DINO/Rethug-Lite) is not the president!

Replay question: Why should Americans always elect a democrat as president and never a republican?

Replay answer: When a repuke is elected president, we know that the working people of our country are going to get screwed. When a dumbocrap is elected president, we can pretend to be surprised when the working people of our country get screwed!

Posted by: SadOldVet on November 29, 2010 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

I have mixed feelings about this in that many of us who still have jobs in the private sector haven't seen a raise in many years.

Look, there's almost no inflation - why should federal government workers get automatic annual pay raises when no one else is, and when most states are cutting payrolls?

On the other hand, I realize that it's somewhat anti-stimulative and angers his base. And he really can't cave on tax cuts for the rich.

Posted by: Sapient on November 29, 2010 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is a lost cause. I'm getting to the point where I don't even know if voting for him is worth it. Truly, I really think it's quite possible he'll lose the next election. If Dem voters are feeling the way I am, then it's already over.

Posted by: KC on November 29, 2010 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Byers, as usual, is right on the money.

Posted by: Sapient on November 29, 2010 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

But he's still a socialist, right?

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on November 29, 2010 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

I would rather unemployment benefits be extended for another 26 weeks.

And I would rather we had a second stimulus package that would help bring the unemployment rate down (plus a pony!). But Obama didn't trade the pay freeze for your preferred outcome, or for mine. He traded it for nothing.

Posted by: somethingblue on November 29, 2010 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Eh, look, y'all, I can show ya my liberal bona-fides from way back, and there's nothing there that's opposed in principle to a federal worker wage freeze in hard times. It's just the right thing to do right now, and that means not treating it like it's a negotiating chip. I don't want to be on the side of a debate that argues federal workers should be immune from the economic pressures that face their private-sector counterparts. Yeah, I want to see taxes on the rich back brought back to their historic norms, but we're not going to win friends among the working electorate if the first thing we do with the revenue increases is give all the feds big pay hikes. And we could use some friends right now.

Posted by: beejeez on November 29, 2010 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Now watch the prez and the gutless democrats cave on the bush/cheney tax cuts!

Posted by: antiquelt on November 29, 2010 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

The president has some extraordinary strengths. Negotiating tactics do not appear to be among them.

Talk about your uber-need for cheese and crackers to go with the whine....

Our household took a 6% cut in 2009, and there was 0% increase in 2010. A lot of households over the past three years have taken a 100% cut in earnings---and you teeny-tiny snivellers call the CinC's gesture "anti-stimulus?" What---you're going to go out and give a repeat performance of your tepid political payback scheme; your "we'll-get-even-with-that-damned-do-nothing-Obama" insanity that just handed the Congressional power-of-the-purse to a bunch of Randian fanatics? Hell's bells, people; I do not know what's worse---the Republicans, or YOU. Here's the deal-ee-oh, kiddies:

1.) How long does this "freeze" last? About as long as the ReThugs have the House; that's how long.

2.) What happens if McCon-Job and his lackey, the Great Orange Bonebag, refuse to give something in return? They lose the bulk of the Indie vote in 2 years' time.

3.) What happens if McCJ and his GOB sidekick do give something in return? They get eaten alive in 2 years' time by their new masters at Teabagger, Inc.

4.) For the Reich noise machine to play this to their advantage, they'll have to go so uber-alles bizarro-freak that the majority of common-sense conservatives still living south of Canada and north of Mexico will get tee'd off to the point of pulling money and votes away from the GOP. They'll see something that makes Mikey Steel look like Barry Goldwater, and then you'll see a true schism in the Republican party---not a very big one, mind you; maybe only 10-to-15% at best---but enough to pull the rabid hench-monkeys of the Great Green Oligarchy down from their perches and into the tarpits of political purgatory.

Or---you can go ahead, give the whole damned Republic to the Neandertahians, rename the country the United States of Pottersville, and then tell me how it's all my fault because I dared to disagree with your silly, hand-wringing tantrum.

Posted by: S. Waybright on November 29, 2010 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Beyers said "The general feeling out here in "real" America is those pointy headed Federal employees are the best paid in the country. A lot of people believe..."

God, isn't that nice "a lot of people believe..." I used to believe in Santa Claus too but alas, I was wrong. And so are those people in 'real' America. They will believe anything the corporate media feeds them without checking the facts. Earlier today (in another blog) I heard someone repeat that nonsense that federal workers "average between $100 - 120K salary. POPPY COCK! Look at the information available to any moron with a computer. The top salary offered in the government (GS15, step 10) is $129K. Most top level managers working in field offices make between $75-90K (GS13) When the private markets were booming and companies couldn't pay enough to workers to stick around, nobody wanted a federal job but now that the only stable jobs in the country are with the federal government, everybody thinks (or should I say believes) that their salaries are too high.

As a federal worker I am totally willing to have my pay frozen for 2 years, even though I know it is a small blip on the natuional budget, as long as folks are willing to make similar small gestures (or big ones) across the board. That means that those with incomes exceeding $250K should be will to make sacrifices to the tune of having their taxes return to Clinton era rates. Or how about everybody's taxes returning to those rates.

Posted by: Vandal on November 29, 2010 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

It's just the right thing to do right now...

Posted by: beejeez on November 29, 2010 at 1:40 PM

Did you channel your inner Herbert Hoover to make this pronouncement, beejeez?

P.S. S. Waybright, you need a name change. I suggest Silly And Waydelusional.

Posted by: ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© on November 29, 2010 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

What a bold man President Chamberlain . . . err, Obama . . . is.

Posted by: DWOB on November 29, 2010 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

There may be more method to his maddness than people are willing to believe. The Obama proposal for a pay freeze is just that, a proposal. It is up to Congress to act on that proposal and over the past decade there have been regular calls to give the uniformed services a bigger pay increase each year by stiffing the civil service, and every year Congress caves to public pressure and keeps the increases about equal. With a few Virginia seats in NOVA having switched to Republican hands it will be nice see the new Congressmen squirm as they try to uphold their pledge of no compromise on principles and keep their large civil service constituency happy all at the same time.

I doubt that the pay freeze will survive, but even if it does, so what? In spite of all the arguments about federal employee pay being too generous, where apples are usually being compared to oranges, the fact is, at the low end of the GS payscale federal employees do do very well. File clerks in the federal government usually do much better than their private sector counterparts. But at the other end of the pay scale things pretty much already suck. Given that bonuses and regular step increases will be left untouched, most employees will experience some kind of pay increase during the two years. What is being frozen is, essentially, a cost of living increase. I haven't seen much increase in the cost of living over the past year or two, so, while it won't help stimulate the economy, it sure won't harm the employees all that much either.

Full disclosure, I am a federal employee who is having my pay frozen...maybe.

Posted by: majun on November 29, 2010 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Vandal, the figures you cite are for base pay. "The following is a BASE pay scale. All U.S. locations (including Hawaii and Alaska) receive additional pay adjustments above the base pay ranging from 14.16% to 35.15%." (http://www.fedjobs.com/pay/pay.html)

Federal employees aren't rich and aren't overpaid, but they have fairly secure jobs with good benefits, and they aren't underpaid. S. Waybright's comment and household income situation is pretty typical of people I know who are lucky enough to still be working. It cuts down on intra-class resentment for federal workers to show a [very modest] degree of sacrifice. Whether it should have been used (subtly) as a bargaining chip is a good topic of discussion, but I don't really think that the federal workers should be hurting from this decision.

Posted by: Sapient on November 29, 2010 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

I really find this utterly incomprehensible.

The White House can't possible think that this will engender then some goodwill with Republicans that will help pass other Obama priorities later, can they?

They can't possible think this will win them any votes in an election two years away, can they?

So they must simply think that this is good policy. OK, OK, we get it - Obama is a Rockefeller Republican. Sucks for us on the left, but we get it. But couldn't he at least be a *competent* Rockefeller Republican, and get something in return for this? I mean, even as a Rockefeller Republican he's still to the left of every Republican in congress, so there are things he wants to do that they don't.

I just really really really don't understand how the White House could think this is a good approach, no matter how dark you think their motivations are.

Posted by: cyn on November 29, 2010 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

More pre-compromising from President Pussytoes.

This guy has a congenital problem. He surrenders before the battle has even begun. It did not work on the stimulus. It did not work for an energy bill. I don't know what he thinks he is going to get this time.

The more desperate he gets for Republicans to like him, the more they despise him. And he loses his friends, too. What a plan!

Posted by: Steve on November 29, 2010 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

While I agree with much of the concerns about Obama caving to Republican demands and not fighting for progressive principles this isn't really the issue to fight this over. No this won't help stimulate the economy and won't do much for the deficit and probably is best characterized as a symbolic gesture. Still it is a gesture. If people on social security don't get a cost of living increase there really isn't any reason to give federal employee's a raise. As a state employee I haven't gotten a raise in 2 years. Unfortunately there is a lot of resentment out there to federal employee's virtually all of it nonsensical but under the current circumstances there are better arguments to have. Now whether Obama will have them is a different story.

Posted by: Camus on November 29, 2010 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Look, there's almost no inflation - why should federal government workers get automatic annual pay raises when no one else is, and when most states are cutting payrolls?

I know this is meant to be a rhetorical question, but it has an actual answer: because those people take the money and go out and buy stuff and use services that private sector workers and state workers provide—which keeps more of the latter from being laid off or taking still deeper pay cuts. Would it be "fairer" if we all got a raise? Hell, yeah. Would it be more stimulative? Yeah, it would. But Obama can't make your employer or your state government give you a raise. It's silly for him to deliberately deprive himself of one stimulative tool that he does have.

Look, I'm a state worker, and my pay's been frozen since before the current depression. But I recognize that it's better for the economy if some lower and middle class people have a little more money to spend than if none of us do.

Posted by: somethingblue on November 29, 2010 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Benen - a pay freeze for federal employees isn't a bad move. He did not choose to cut a program or any needed policy implementation. He took economic action where he could to help mitigate the everpresent deficit.

Having taken a 4.4% pay cut over the past two years to deal with this torrent recession, I can support President Obama's action today, as it represents actionable attention to our current economic woes! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on November 29, 2010 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

somethingblue, point taken, but weighing the very small stimulative effect of automatic federal pay raises against the (somewhat unreasonable perhaps) perception among many people that the federal government is bloated and its workers immune from economic sacrifice: I mean, who knows, but I just don't think this is worth the major outrage of some of the people commenting. Maybe it's not smart; maybe it is, but it's not going to fix the economy either way. It's a symbolic gesture that allows some people to feel that government workers are in solidarity, sharing the pain.

Posted by: Sapient on November 29, 2010 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

As I read the comments I keep seeing people referring to negotiating and "bargaining chips", and deploring the fact that Obama hasn't used this proposal better in his negotiations with the new GOP leadership. And I have to ask, who really expects the GOP to negotiate? Just saying "no" got them a huge pick-up in the mid-terms and, since there is no evidence that they are adult enough to understand the subtle differences between being in opposition and sharing power, we can assume that there will be no more negotiating these next two years than there was in the previous two years.

I think everyone has to look at Obama's proposal as a put up or shut up proposition. His proposal will force a lot of Republicans to make a hard choice between principles and pissing off a large and important constituency. Good for him.

Posted by: majun on November 29, 2010 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Sapient - I know those rates are base pay and I know there are locality adjustments. I am a federal worker who, if you read my post, is totally on board with the pay freeze - as long as we are not the only ones making the sacrifice. Ron Beyer's statement is what gets my goat. USA Today or the myriad other publications post headlines stating government salaries that include locality adjudtjments AND benefits and every one in the country thinks those are the base rates. I happen to believe the adjustments are justified and appropriate. What I don't agree with is the assumption that federal workers are overpaid. People loath federal workers for having "fairly secure jobs with good benefits." We made a choice in our lives to obtain those jobs and most of the time people in "real" America disdain working for the government. But not now. I chose to leave private practice as an architect after 15 years specifically because I was tired of the insecurity of that business. My friends who stayed in the private sector typically received much greater pay than me, especially when you factor in bonues, which can be lucrative in the right firms - including the firm I left. But now that some of those former co-workers are looking for work, my job seems suddenly overvalued by many. I don't buy it.

Posted by: Vandal on November 29, 2010 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

He's hurting 2.1 million people, the vast majority of whom do make very much money. Open your eyes, for a change.

Posted by: ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© o

im sure the nearly 20 percent of american workers who are either unemployed or underemployed feel the same as you. as do social security recipients who will receive no cost of living adjustment next year.

i don't believe government workers should be used as political punching bags. nor do i believe they are overpaid. but the overall compensation package for most is comparable to what they'd receive for similar positions in the private sector.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on November 29, 2010 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

Just wondering. Is congress also willing to have a pay freeze? I would think not.

Posted by: Corey on November 29, 2010 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Salary freezes aren't new....I've been on one for two years and will be a third.
If Obama was serious about reducing debt, he'd stop fighting undeclared wars in the Iraq and Afghanistan. Never in our history has so much money been wasted.

Posted by: T2 on November 29, 2010 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

And as for the argument that federal workers are overpaid, I have to ask, in what world? Here are a few simple facts:

The lowest salary that a federal employee could earn in 2010 was $17,803 per annum. That works out to just an hourly rate of $8.53 per hour or a buck twenty eight over the federal minimum wage and two cents an hour under the Washington state minimum wage. Till the US government starts serving MacDonalds hamburgers that should be low enough.

The highest salary that any federal employee can earn is $400,000 per annum. But only one employee can earn that, the POTUS, who is essentially the CEO of the largest corporation in the world. Of course he gets some nice perks with that, huge travel and entertainment expense account, nice house, use of corporate jets and helicopters, private security detail, etc. etc., but if you would care to compare all that with any compensation package and perks for a Fortune 500 CEO, feel free. And remember this job has no security. Just a four year temporary job with a single option for renewal.

The highest salary in the federal workforce is just 23 times higher than the lowest. Compare that to any private sector enterprise.

So, what does federal employment offer? At the lowest end of the spectrum it offers a base salary that is usually a bit better than what a private sector counterpart might be offered. The benefit package is better than most, and not as good as some. The best benefit at the lowest end of the scale is job security. As you advance up the scale the pay and benefits, as compared with the private sector, continue to shrink until the real advantage is with the private sector by the time you reach mid-level management positions. At that point the only real advantage is job security. And even that declines as you rise up in the ranks.

If anything I would say that that low level workers in the federal government are paid fairly (a rarity in this day and age) at the expense of the higher level workers. Nobody is getting rich off their civil service paycheck.

Posted by: majun on November 29, 2010 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK
Granted, we're not talking about a lot of money ...


I mean, really, I understand that private sector folks are getting screwed -- my wife was out of work for nearly a year, so I get it. I really do.

But this move will do NOTHING to change the deficit more than .001%. It will do NOTHING to create jobs or improve consumer spending (it'll actually reduce the latter for some two million people). And it will do NOTHING to appease the GOP and it's flying monkey hordes.

So why is he doing this? Seriously. What the fuck does Obama accomplish by this move, other than to once again display that he's a total, unabashed coward?

Posted by: Mark D on November 29, 2010 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

More Third-Way nonsense. Bad policy. Bad politics.

Only when actual liberals figure out how to extricate themselves from reflexive association with faux-liberal Third-Way Democrats will liberal policies stand a chance in hell of being enacted.

Posted by: square1 on November 29, 2010 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

You want the stimulative effect paying federal workers an extra couple percent would give? OK, but wouldn't adding a couple percent more workers to the federal payroll be even better?Especially if they're doing things like infrastructure upgrades, Wall Street regulatory monitoring, food inspections, border patrols, etc.?

Posted by: beejeez on November 29, 2010 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

majun, I'm not arguing that federal workers are overpaid, but your facts are wrong.

The $17,803 amount is not the lowest possible pay, because there's an adjustment raising it at least 14.16% in all areas of the country except Hawaii and Alaska where the adjusted pay is a bit less. Therefore, in the Continental U.S., the lowest possible pay is $20,323. Since you mentioned Washington State, there's a 21.81% adjustment above the minimum in Seattle, where the lowest paid worker would make $21685 per year. (Very few workers receive the lowest possible pay.)

Again, I'm not arguing that they're overpaid, but they're certainly paid well. (As to higher "professional" status jobs, certainly there's a trade-off between salary and job security as Vandal describes.)

If you look at the comments on the NYT site, they're more positive than negative, so whether or not the move is politically wise is still an open question.

Posted by: Sapient on November 29, 2010 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

federal workers make less than their counterparts in the private sector, when you compare apples to apples.

If you factor in education levels, age, time on the job and work experience, they make less.


This is a very stupid and unfair thing for Obama to do right now. It is anti-stimulus and wrong. Why should Middle Class wages be cut when the majority of the reason for the deficit in the first place is endless tax cuts for the rich?

Let them sacrifice for a change.

Posted by: Diomedes on November 29, 2010 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

I'm curious---If the thunder doesn't get you in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does its squeaky troll-rhetoric make a non-irrelevant noise?

*crickets chirping*

Posted by: S. Waybright on November 29, 2010 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK


It is a bad move for all the reasons you and others have mentioned - anti-stimulus, etc. It is also likely to dampen employee morale and productivity far more than 1.4%.

Since the Reagan era government employees have been told they are the problem - not the solution. On top of that they are taking a an effective pay cut.

It's bad management and lousy politics. Moreover, by next week nobody except for government employees and their families will remember the pay freeze. In fact, I bet, before the end of the year, Rush, FOX News and company will have the Tea Party crowd believing that federal employees actually got a raise.



The Federal Government has its share of clock punchers and clock watchers. It also has millions of extremely dedicated folks who go above and beyond - and not just at DOD.

Posted by: bob on November 29, 2010 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

majun, I don't argue your facts. I argue that the rest of America believes Federal employees are over paid and under worked. Folks out here would love to have a cushy Federal job.

Before you go off on me, I never worked harder than I did during my time at the IRS and I dont' think I was paid nearly what I was worth, but the perception is that Federal employees all live the life of Reilly.

Apparently the Federal employees have done a poor job selling the value of Federal workers.

Posted by: Ron Byers on November 29, 2010 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

Aren't Federal employees more unionized than the private-sector workforce? Is this something of a symbolic stick-in-the-eye to organized labor? I wonder if we'll see a response from some of the big unions soon.

Posted by: 1st Paradox on November 29, 2010 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Have you considered that this is preemption. Republicans want to not only cut government-worker pay but to fire quite a few. This is Obama getting ahead of them with a less blunt approach.

Posted by: Paul Siegel on November 29, 2010 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Obama left no doubt unturned on his willingness to pander to the repugs on this one. Obama implemented one of Cantor's proposals, more or less, and it's an absolutely meaningless gesture in terms of budget deficit impact. As a prelude to the shared sacrifices he expects to impose on the neediest and the middle class, it's an absolutely necessary gesture. But it's the kind of gesture, flipping a bird to the public employees, that's acceptable only in a world run by the right wing nut cases.

Solutions to really big issues like how to stimulate the economy or to put the budget and deficit into shape are matters of opinion only because the right wing shills for the wealthiest do what they are told and pander for the economic punishments to be imposed on the neediest and the middle class. Unfortunately, our 2008 Democratic president, our veritable prophet of change, is leading once again the same way a 1960's Republican president would do, and that's not acceptable.

A simple reversal of Bush era policies on war and taxes and a cap on Medicare makes the entire budget deficit debate cease to be an issue. In fact, with a downsized military, there's enough money to prop up Social Security into the 22nd Century. Some crisis, eh? But why go after the tough choices when there are so many easier targets to prey upon and then call the actions fiscally responsible?

Posted by: gone_west on November 29, 2010 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

Obama appears to be getting literally nothing in return.

Again. And, again. We shoulda' known. It's right there, in his first book "Dreams of My Father." He spent all that time "representing" the poor in Chicago bank and housing negotiations, and got zip. Nada. But he DID convince the poor to ask for less than they wanted or needed.

Posted by: John B. on November 29, 2010 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

I want a primary. He was the architect of failure from victory--I won't abide any further excuses on his behalf. He is a weak and disastrous leader. He attacks his own constituency. This is beyond the pale.

Posted by: Sparko on November 29, 2010 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

Why does he need to get anything in return? Why is the left so concerned with federal workers?

The assumption is that federal workers vote democrat. My guess is that is not true. Didn't Virginia go GOP? Isn't Tennessee (TVA) GOP? DoD civilian is primarily GOP.

I like that he is ahead on this.

I also think that Obama should be ahead on cuts to SS and Medicare. Why would you sacrifice programs that target the youth for programs aimed at the elderly who are much moere subsided?

Posted by: Anoop on November 29, 2010 at 8:11 PM | PERMALINK

Reading comments from fed employees should explain the nature of what is happening. The only ones who will be hurt by this are those who have reached the top "step" of the payscales. Step increases are automatic in almost all circumsatnces, so new hires and those still climbing the "steps" will get pay increases. Other feds under union contracts will also see raises, since those contracts are in force. As a retired fed under a union contract, while working I received two COLAS, two contract raises and 2 step increases every year until I reached the top step. Some here are making this out to be something it is not and most feds will still get raises in "steps". We worked for the benefits, some that kick in later such as a 401K(created by Raygun BTW) that provided matching funds of 50% up to the minimum contributions of 10%. This is a political move daring Republicans to kick fed employees in the groin, as they have to vote for no pay increases. The unions and fed employee organizations, such as NARFE, are standing strong and advising all of us to contact our reps and let it be known that we are not the only ones who must sacrifice. You all should be doing the same, including anyone who is a republican fed employee or retiree.

Posted by: flyonthewall on November 30, 2010 at 6:04 AM | PERMALINK

What a crazy, upside-down world. Am I crazy or do republican administrations appear to be better for federal employees than democratic ones? As a fed in HHS (Texas), I am concerned for the children we help States protect from abuse and neglect. We can certainly travel less and cut discretionary spending, but we seem to have more contractors now than feds on our agency. They can't make "decisions," which just creates more work for the actual feds. Something really needs to be done to curb the number of contractors, which skew the perception of federal employee pay since contractors are not counted as federal employees and often earn more than feds.

Posted by: A on December 2, 2010 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK



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