Obama demands 2-year pay freeze for federal workers

Union chief slams move as ‘panic’

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Congressional Republicans tried earlier this year to impose a one-year freeze for 2011. But the effort was sidelined by a procedural vote in the House, an amendment introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican - which would have frozen wages and halted all bonuses - was defeated by a vote of 53-45.

But in the intervening months, the climate in Washington has shifted dramatically and cutting spending has become a dominant issue. Lawmakers now regularly struggle to find offsetting spending cuts to pay for programs they propose - a major break with the usual practice during much of the past decade.

Still, with the weak economy and the government’s bailout efforts, the federal government has run a deficit of more than $1 trillion in each of the past two years, and the government’s debt stood at $13.794 trillion as of Friday, the latest figures released.

Wages and benefits accounted for $230 billion in federal spending in 2010, and the more than 2 million federal workers’ benefit packages are substantially more generous than the average private-sector worker receives, said Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

In an analysis arguing that federal workers are overpaid, Mr. Edwards said federal workers’ benefits averaged $41,791 in 2009, or nearly four times the $10,589 in benefits for a private-sector employee.

But the Economic Policy Institute, a union-funded think tank, argued in its own analysis that federal white-collar workers actually are underpaid by about 22 percent. EPI President Lawrence Mishel said for Mr. Obama to target them “is another example of the administration’s tendency to bargain with itself rather than Republicans.”

USA Today reported earlier this month that the number of federal workers earning more than $150,000 rose more than tenfold between 2005 and 2010, and has doubled in the two years since Mr. Obama took office.

The White House said Monday’s call for a freeze was unrelated to reports of higher pay scales, and that the decision was based on the overall budget situation and a looming deadline to set pay rates.

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