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.
“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.)
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?