Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Chill Out: The Obama Pay Freeze

Today President Obama formally called for a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal workers. So much for socialism, eh? The White House is characterizing the move as part of a ‘broad sacrifice’ that seeks to help restore the fiscal and economic health of the country.

of a pumpkin

“The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice, and that sacrifice must be shared by employees of the federal government,” Mr. Obama told reporters. He called federal workers “patriots who love their country” but added, “I’m asking civil servants to do what they’ve always done” for the nation.

White House officials insist that the freeze will not apply to military personnel, but will affect all civilian federal employees, including workers at the Department of Defense. They’re saying the freeze should save more than $5 billion over two years, $28 billion over five years, and more than $60 billion over 10 years. Don’t get me wrong — that’s a lot of cashish, but it’s a mere drop in the deep sea that is our $1 trillion-plus federal budget deficit.

Keep in mind, this was a call for a freeze, not an executive order. Federal pay is determined by Congress, and lawmakers still have to approve. Given the mood of the nation, any guess how that will turn out?  Is Obama’s move here strategic? Sound and sincere? A symbolic gesture? Completely unreasonable? As with everything, it depends entirely on your point of view.

Over at Daily Kos, Jed Lewison makes clear he doesn’t like the idea, and christens Obama with a new nickname: President Gimmick

So…instead of actually doing something real about “sky-high deficit spending” (like pulling out of Afghanistan and Iraq ahead of schedule), we get a symbolic gesture that will reduce federal spending by less than 0.05 percent.

And with that symbolic gesture we witness President Obama’s unfortunate alter-ego, President Gimmick. President Gimmick isn’t serious about solving any of our problems, he’s only serious about demonstrating his desire to solve our problems.

President Gimmick doesn’t offer up plans designed to do anything, he only offers up plans designed to give him zingers for his 2012 debates.

If President Gimmick actually cared about governance, we’d have a comprehensive fiscal plan. Instead, we’re getting cheap applauses lines. You think announcing a federal pay freeze represents toughness? Ha!

This from the front page of the flagship of the internet left. Did you catch all that? If you grind that up a little and filter it through — I don’t know, say a teabag — what you end up with tastes a little like this:

Obama is a phony. Obama is an empty suit. Obama is a pussy.

The ensuing comment thread for Jed’s diary practically drips with these sentiments. In what the sane can only describe as an early Christmas present for Karl Rove, the internet left demonstrates how hungry they are to eat their own. Regardless where you stand on one issue or the other, it was a sad and frightful sight to behold, one that I think is a detriment to the progressive movement generally. Maimonides provided some blustery push back (wherein hysterics naturally ensued) in the sidebar, the most amusing part of which came in an update:

Let me be honest with you, I’m not reading your comments because I can predict them. Right now some combination of Uberbah (never had a coherent thing to say in his life), Ruff Limpbag (basically a persistent troll who never had a useful thing to say) and Slinkerwink (who has the same unreliable narrator problem as the rest of the FDL crowd) and a few other wankers are calling me a sellout, corporate shill, or some other ad hominem to avoid dealing with the fact that they spend their time circle-jerking themselves over the lack of purity at the White House while me and a few others actually picked issues and are working on them in meatspace, you know: WHERE SHIT HAPPENS.

What’s been missing from most of the reports and discussion I’ve been reading (and that include the once ‘reality-based community’) about the proposed ‘freeze on federal pay increases’ are some of the finer points. Just little stuff. Like that it would really only apply to the annual Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) wage increases. But Obama iz takin’ away all the raizes from middle class feds! Well, no.

Even if Congress goes along with the freeze, perhaps 60% of those 2.1 million workers will get raises each year anyway. That’s because the proposed freeze applies only to across-the-board, cost-of-living increases, which, given current low inflation rates, would have been modest anyway. (Obama originally proposed that both federal civilian and military workers get 1.4% COLAs for 2011. Under a long standing formula set in the law, Social Security recipients are getting no cost of living increases for 2011.)

Wait, what?

That’s right. So long as they get satisfactory job ratings (and virtually all do) most federal workers get automatic “step increases” which wouldn’t be halted by Obama’s proposed freeze. By contrast, in a typical private firm freeze, such routine annual raises are put on hold. The federal freeze, says Burke, “is not a freeze in the same way most people (in the private sector) have experienced a freeze.”

Here’s how the “General Schedule”, which covers the pay of about three quarters of civilian federal employees, works: There are 15 hourly and 15 salaried GS grades. Within each of those grades there are 10 steps. Each step equals about a 3% wage boost. When a worker enters a new GS level, he gets an annual step increase for the first three years; then a step increase every two years for the next six years; and then a step increase every three years for the nine years after that. That’s assuming he doesn’t win merit step increases that speed up the raise schedule and he isn’t promoted, in which case he starts receiving yearly raises again in his new, higher GS grade.  (According to a Congressional Budget Office study, the 178,000 workers who were promoted in 2005 got an average raise of 9%.)

Somehow, this is all still great news…for John McCain.

Well, is this whole thing a gambit? Greg Sargent seems to think so:

…judging by Obama’s remarks to reporters about the freeze, he seems to think it will strengthen his hand in coming negotiations with the GOP.

Indeed, it’s hard to miss the timing here: He announced it one day before heading into his first high-profile meeting with Republicans tomorrow, to discuss whether to let the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire. The two-year pay freeze would only make a tiny dent in the deficit, and as Peter Baker puts it, it’s mainly a “symbolic gesture.”

In remarks to reporters just now, Obama left little doubt that he views this move as a preemptive strike against Republicans in the war for the moral high ground over who really cares about the deficit. He called for the GOP to join him in “making sure that we’re not dragged down on long term debt.”

What say you?

[poll id=”




  1. For as much as I’ve heard Democrats complain that the President didn’t do enough and was personally responsible for the loss of the House, and the tightening of the Senate–[i]who[/i] is the head of the DNC right now?–he has handed them a campaign issue if they’ve the wit to use it. As much as any other issue.

    A symbolic gesture?  Yes. As much as any other, but this is one that can be used later on to show resolve to cut the deficit.  And it will force folks to take a stand.  Which, to be fair, Congresscritters hate to do on any issue that isn’t entirely unambiguous….

  2. spacemanspiff

    It’s just piefight after piefight. All that time and energy put into an activity that does absolutely nothing for them. It’s crazy! It’s become so predictable I just look for some comments with h’rates and read from there (entertainment purposes). I don’t read enough to know all the meta involved but whenever I’m surfing aimlessly on the net I check it out for giggles. Hasn’t failed me yet.

    I would really like for Obama to bring back our troops. That would be my chief complaint against the current administration.

    It’s time to bring them home.

  3. jsfox

    I found the whole sturm und drang over this proposed freeze to be beyond silly.

    Then again lately almost everything I read over at Kos has gotten beyond silly.

    It has gotten to the point where I am starting to think that progressive happiness will not be achieved at DKos and places like FDL until Dems are once again in the minority and out of the White House. And then there will be months and months of diaries by the usual suspects laying out the case on how it was all Obama’s fault and they had nothing to do with it. Had he but listened  . . .

    to them.

  4. creamer

    I suspect a lot of white and grey collared americans would love government jobs. Cost of living raises,step raises, pensions, sign me up.

     I would like this better if congress voted themselves a pay cut, followed by a freeze until say we get the deficet down to a reasonable level.

     It would seem that if your a millionare with lots of perks and bennies maybe you should think about your own compensation while whinning about the cost of government.( Or non-government depending on your persuassion.

  5. With our right wing Coalition in power, we’re getting half a million public sector jobs cut – and the knock on effect will make 700,000 private sector employees redundant.

    Rather good video from a new Campaigning movement False Economy, explains much better than I do.

    (Sorry – couldn’t embed the vimeo video: if someone knows how let me know)

  6. louisprandtl

    about. Paul Krugman referred to Obama’s tactics in dealing with Republicans as negotiating with himself. He could have used this as one of his negotiation tool, instead he chose to unilaterally give it up. Similarly he already had indicated he might be ok with extending all of the Bush tax cuts. Obama’s team seem to be falling into the perpetual Overton window trap that allows the Republicans to slide the bar to the extreme right.

    I’m sorry but sometimes this administration’s actions does bewilder me.

  7. Jjc2008

    had grown up like my father, and some of my cousins, with the “red scare” mentality.  By the 80s, not only was Reagan and the right pushing it, the Catholic church was pushing it as hard or harder than they had in the 1950s.   The church of the 1960s, the “social justice” nuns and priests were being forced out and the right wing bishops were starting their siding with the extreme right.

    I remember that starting in the mid seventies.  One of my principals was a diehard catholic.  I remember his scathing attempts at getting me to see I was a bad catholic going to hell if I did not recognize that communism was the cause of atheism and had to be stopped at all costs.

    Now, many in my generation grew up being scared to death of the “commie” threats in the 1950s.  I remember a nun telling us how commies, if they got to come to the USA, might threaten us and ask us to renounce Jesus or they would kill our whole family. I had nightmares worrying about how I would handle it….could I let my parents die or would I renounce Jesus.

    Now, somehow by the seventies, I outgrew that stuff.  Maybe it was MAD magazine or the Twilight zone.  Or just me.  But I began to read and learn and not so easily accept that anything that was said by the government or even the news had to be true.  But some people did not. I KNOW there were of my peers who bought the commie scare as truth and believed it.  

    So yea, there were many union folks who bought it.  Just like many of them bought into the church and the anti abortion, anti contraception, the Pope is all knowing.  

    Still does not mean unions are bad.  The concept is still sound.  We just need more educated folks getting out the truth.

  8. The GOP is talking about pay cuts and laying off federal employees. The Prez got out in front of them with the least harmful action. Now when they holler about federal employees, he can point to the freeze. It won’t gain him anything with the GOP, but it will resonate with independents. He looks reasonable and they look ideological. Classic triangulation. Maybe the Big Dog gave him some advice.

    I’m wondering why the freeze was necessary. If prices didn’t go up enough for SS recipients to get a COLA then there should be no reason for one for federal employees. It doesn’t make any sense.

  9. creamer

      We need to walk back from the edge. Financialy our country staggers towards the cliff, the right and the left elbow and punch each other while vying for the best seat to watch the climax.

     Its always somone elses fault. The unions are either responsible for our countrys rise or the casue of our fall. The rich are wonderful philanthropist or money hungry bastards.

     We elected somone to change the way Washington works, and are mad at him for not playing politics as usual? I give him credit, he’s trying. Freezing federal cost of living raises is logical. Inflation is low,and the people writing the check are losing money. Its a no brainer.


  10. GMFORD

    We aren’t going to take away SSI or make huge cuts in the defense budget so the best way left to do it is take a little off here and a little off there.  Instead of one big oozing wound, a thousand little ouchies.

    I’m more in favor of tax hikes myself.  The uber wealthy have had a free ride for too long.  We all know they’ll just piss that extra money away on gold plated Bentleys and other stupid stuff.

  11. fogiv

    …I just want to point out that if one holds their cursor over the diary’s “Frozone” graphic, it says picture of a pumpkin. This small bit of html goofiness is just one of the many services I provide here at Motley Moose.

    As you were.

  12. DTOzone

    Now that we’re so close to the end, the question is whether, President Obama is willing to stand up, fire up the nation, and drag his plan across the finish line by holding Senate Republicans accountable if they choose to filibuster middle-class tax cuts. Apparently, the answer that question is “no,” at least based on this statement from Robert Gibbs:

    The the statement

    The President continues to believe that extending middle class tax cuts is the most important thing we can do for our economy right now and he applauds the House for passing a permanent extension.  But, because Republicans have made it clear that they won’t pass a middle class extension without also extending tax cuts for the wealthy, the President has asked Director Lew and Secretary Geithner to work with Congress to find a way forward.  Those discussions started just yesterday and are continuing this afternoon.  The talks are ongoing and productive, but any reports that we are near a deal in the tax cuts negotiations are inaccurate and premature.

    kos wants the White House to hold Republicans accountable, and he’s upset that the White House is trying to reach a deal, even though the statement he alludes to…BLAMES REPUBLICANS FOR THE IMPASSE.

  13. Kiku

    Most Americans have taken a salary cut, lost their jobs, their homes, etc.  The salary for civil employees is paid for by our taxes.  I don’t think it’s fair to ask people who are suffering to pony up even more tax money to pay for a higher salary for gov employees.  I would rather see that money used to create jobs for people who have none.

    Just because Fed employees would be likely to spend that money doesn’t mean that it’s the best use of that money, or that we should be tapping into that money right now anyway.  It’s robbing Peter to pay Peter, taking money from people who will spend to give to people who will spend it.

    I can’t think of a worse justification for taking money from people who need it.  

Comments are closed.