President Obama proposed a two year freeze on federal employee compensation today, just ahead of a Tuesday post-election meeting with the GOP leaders. The proposal was originally put forward by Republicans in recent months — and slammed by Democrats.
The move is reminiscent of Obama’s call for a freeze on non-defense discretionary spending in the days after Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) won deceased Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in a special election earlier this year. The gesture resulted in no meaningful counter-gesture from the GOP and the administration’s natural allies questioned the move. It’s likely to be no different today.
In recent months, Democrats have attacked Republicans for proposing federal pay and hiring freezes, and experts have derided the idea of attacking massive budget deficits with small-fry initiatives like this one.
On the Senate floor in June, now-retired Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE) whacked a Republican amendment that would have frozen federal pay as an “assault” against “those who choose to serve.”
“Now is not the time to talk about laying off federal workers, or freezing their pay,” he said.
To the contrary, a pay freeze is likely to drive top talent out of government work and into more lucrative private sector jobs. “We should be talking, seriously and on this floor, about how to invest in recruiting the next generation of federal employees,” Kaufman said.
The same week, Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) called the GOP proposal “arbitrary and restrictive.”
And just a week ago, the National Federation of Federal Employees called out Republicans for pushing a pay freeze, and signaled their fear that Obama would join forces with the GOP
“Not only do many make considerably less than their private sector counterparts, they are presently facing some of the most significant threats to their livelihoods in decades,” reads a statement from NFFE. “Federal workers now fear that even the modest 1.4 percent pay adjustment proposed by President Obama could be eliminated in the coming months. Some worry that this attempt to freeze pay will be just the first of many additional attacks on the federal workforce.”
According to White House officials, the plan will save $2 billion in Fiscal Year 2011, $28 billion over five years, and $60 billion over 10 years.
In a conference call with reporters, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer and OMB deputy director Jeffrey Zients characterized it as a difficult decision, but one divorced from key Democratic initiatives like extending unemployment benefits, or letting the Bush tax cuts for top earners expire.
“This is about finding ways to deal with the deficit and cut spending,” Pfeiffer said. “I don’t view this as specifically connected to the tax cut debate.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.