The federal worker pay freeze President Obama announced last week was promoted as a move in the right direction toward deficit reduction. But weighed against the historic fiscal damage his administration has inflicted on the country, it’s nothing more than a symbolic gesture.
The pay freeze was clearly driven by politics since Mr. Obama has shown no restraint in shelling out money to create more bureaucrats. Mr. Obama has presided over a 20 percent increase in the federal work force, the long-term costs of which dwarf any savings from a two-year salary standstill. There shouldn’t be any pay increases for bureaucrats these days anyway. Federal wage increases are supposed to mirror movements in the private sector but tend to outpace them. In 2009, the cost of living index declined by .7 percent, and private-sector wages rose .9 percent. Federal workers, on the other hand, enjoyed a lavish 3.9 percent across-the-board salary hike. That largesse should be considered their two-year pay raise paid in advance. Pay-band increases and purported “performance” bonuses were exempted from the freeze, which cuts into potential savings and provides a handy backdoor for raises.
The response from pampered bureaucrats was predictably ballistic. One likened the situation to the Holocaust. “As a whipping boy for excess spending of the past, I feel like the Jews in Germany just prior to the persecution,” he hyperventilated in a note to Federal News Radio. “I guess soon we will see our fellow co-workers disappearing and no one will say a thing.” It’s a sad day when someone who is supposed to be a public servant believes missing out on a small, automatic pay rise is the equivalent of Hitler’s crimes. This monstrously exaggerated sense of entitlement is why most Americans roll their eyes when government hacks grumble about their alleged woes. The people who really have been disappearing are private-sector workers forced to take 100 percent pay cuts when their jobs evaporated, something coddled federal employees don’t have to worry about.
Mr. Obama’s drop-in-the-bucket approach to deficit reduction is an attempt at Clinton-style political triangulation, but it’s likely to backfire. The American people are too well-acquainted with Barack’s addiction to deficit spending to be fooled, and it’s another data point for the president’s disappointed liberal supporters who’re increasingly convinced he lacks the fire in the belly to withstand the Republican onslaught. At a time when the left wants the president to show an uncompromising attitude and to stand firm against the winds of change, Mr. Obama chose to cave, at least rhetorically.
Promised savings from the freeze are a pittance compared Mr. Obama’s orgy of deficit-fueled spending. The claimed $2 billion savings this fiscal year could more easily be realized by reclaiming the stimulus money the Obama administration doled out for California’s controversial high-speed train to nowhere, or countless other wasteful projects. If the O Force truly cared, meaningful savings could come from rolling back the administration’s federal hires. Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, has proposed legislation that would reduce the federal workforce to the size it was on Feb. 16, 2009, which is a start but hardly sufficient.
In 2000, the federal civilian workforce was 1.78 million, the lowest level since 1950. President Clinton bragged that he eliminated 377,000 government jobs during his two terms. The incoming, small-government Republican Congress should set the bar lower than Clinton-era levels.