President Obama has proposed an across-the-board, two-year pay freeze for all civilian federal employees — a strategy the White House says will save about $5 billion over two years and $28 billion over five years. The plan requires approval by Congress, where an empowered Republican caucus has prioritized government spending cuts. But even if the plan is enacted, the savings are a tiny fraction of our $1.3 trillion deficit. Is this, as Obama says, the first of many hard budget choices, or is it mostly political theater? (Watch Obama's announcement)

Obama's anteing up: This "largely symbolic" budget-cutting gesture will take only "a relatively small nibble" out of the deficit, says Adam Sorenson in Time. But it's significant that Obama made the announcement the day before he faces off with congressional Republicans, who want bigger slices from the federal bureaucracy. Obama is gambling he can "co-opt" the populist anger over federal pay "without giving away the farm."
"Potential pitfalls in Obama's federal pay freeze"

This won't satisfy anyone: Obama's "pay freeze gimmick" won't win him any political points, says Jonathan Chait in The New Republic. Liberals will "dismiss it because it's a stupid policy, and conservatives [will] attack it because they're partisan Republicans," and because it doesn't cut deep enough. That leaves Obama with "a policy initiative that's mildly harmful and panned by all sides."
"The federal pay freeze gimmick"

The symbolism is the point: "Bashing" federal workers as overpaid and underworked is "neither fair nor accurate," but freezing their pay "at a time of low inflation is a fair step," says The Washington Post in an editorial. The "symbolic effect" of having the federal government participate in this era of "shared sacrifice" is as important as the "relatively small, but not trivial" dent it will make in our budget deficit.
"A federal pay freeze"