|NOT ALL EMPLOYEES AFFECTED
President Obama’s plan would not apply to the military, but it would affect all others on the Executive Branch payroll.
Obama proposes wage freeze for federal workers
Two-year plan would save $5b
WASHINGTON — President Obama proposed yesterday a two-year freeze of the salaries of about 2 million federal workers, trying to seize the deficit-cutting initiative from Republicans with a sudden, dramatic stroke. Though signaling White House concern over record deficits, the freeze would make only a tiny dent in annual deficits or the nation’s $14 trillion debt.
“Small businesses and families are tightening their belts,’’ Obama said in brief remarks at the White House. “The government should, too.’’ The administration said the plan was designed to save more than $5 billion over the two years.
The proposal, which must be approved by Congress, would not apply to the military, but it would affect all others on the Executive Branch payroll. It would not affect members of Congress or their staffs, defense contractors, postal workers, or federal court judges and workers.
Obama’s move was an attempt to get in front of Republican plans to slash federal pay and the workforce next year, when they will flex more legislative muscle than now. It came a day ahead of Obama’s meeting at the White House with both Republican and Democratic leaders — his first with Republicans since the midterm elections — and two days before the deadline for recommendations by his deficit-reduction commission.
The president said the economy and federal spending were at the top of the agenda for today’s meeting, one he said he hoped “will mark a first step toward a new and productive working relationship’’ between the two parties. Because of GOP midterm gains, “we now have a shared responsibility to deliver for the American people on the issues that define not only these times but our future,’’ Obama said.
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, on track to become House speaker in January, said he was pleased with the president’s announcement.
“Republicans and Democrats don’t have to wait until January to cut spending and stop all the tax hikes. We can — and should — start right now,’’ Boehner said in a statement. He also suggested that Obama was taking a page from the GOP playbook.
The freeze would take effect on Jan. 1, assuming the lame-duck Congress approves the move by the end of this year. The 2012 pay freeze will be included by Obama as part of his fiscal 2012 budget submission to Congress, due early next year.
In the past, Congress has generally gone along with presidential recommendations on federal worker pay levels.
Without congressional action, federal employees would automatically get a 0.9 percent increase under the formula set by a 1990 law. They received a 1.9 percent pay increase this year.
Labor union leaders balked at the freeze.
John Gage, president of the 600,000-member American Federation of Government Employees, called the decision “a slap at working people. . . . To symbolically hit at federal employees I think is just wrong.’’
Colleen Kelley, head of the 150,000-member National Treasury Employees Union, said union officials would try to derail the proposal in Congress. She may find some sympathy with union-friendly Democrats still in control for another month.
The president’s move bows to growing budget concerns and pressure from Republicans, and many rank-and-file Democrats, to rein in federal pay and benefits.
The federal government is the nation’s largest employer.
“I did not reach this decision easily; this is not a line item on a federal ledger, these are people’s lives,’’ Obama said.
But, he added, “getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice, and that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government.’’ He said he was just asking civil servants “to do what they’ve always done — play their part.’’
Federal workers have been less directly affected by the recession than other sectors, with fewer layoffs and continued annual pay increases. Republican and fiscal conservative critics have argued that federal employees are better paid than private-sector counterparts, although public workers’ unions dispute this.
Shortly after taking office in January 2009, Obama froze salaries of top White House officials and top political appointees.
Congress, not covered by Obama’s new freeze plans as a separate branch of government, froze its pay last April, with House and Senate votes to forgo an automatic $1,600 annual cost of living increase.
House members and senators are paid $174,000 a year. Their last pay increase was $4,700 a year at the beginning of 2009. The president’s pay of $400,000 a year was fixed by Congress in January 2001 and has not changed since then.