With deficit reduction increasingly dominating debate in Washington, President Obama this week proposed a two-year salary freeze for 2.1 million federal workers. “Getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifices,” Obama said. The freeze would exempt uniformed military personnel, Congress, defense contractors, postal workers, and judges. Other federal workers would forego automatic raises, but not bonuses or promotion raises. The freeze would save $2 billion this fiscal year, a minimal cut in the government’s $1.3 trillion deficit. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, whose union strongly backed Obama’s election, denounced the freeze in a statement: “No one is served by our government participating in a ‘race to the bottom’ in wages,” he said.
Obama made the proposal before meeting with Republican congressional leaders in the Oval Office this week, and against the backdrop of think tank and commission reports on deficit reduction. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican Leader John Boehner, who is designated to be the next speaker of the House, reached no substantive agreements with Obama in the meeting, but all agreed on a framework for prompt discussions on the fate of Bush-era tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of this month.
In politics, you’re supposed to “dance with the one that brung ya,” said Michael Scherer in Time.com. More than anyone, unions are the Democrats’ dancing partners. Yet with this move, the president showed he’s willing to demand sacrifices from allies to cut the deficit. Are Republicans willing to do the same?
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“The freeze isn’t about saving money,” said Ezra Klein in WashingtonPost.com. It’s about politics. Obama is trying to blunt the “resentment” of private-sector workers who feel that government employees have been “insulated” from the worst effects of the recession. With consumer spending slack, taking money away from 2.1 million workers isn’t exactly “what the economy needs” right now, said Steve Benen in WashingtonMonthly.com. “A pay freeze is an anti-stimulus.”
Perhaps, but it’s pretty good “triangulation,” said Rich Lowry in National Review Online. Obama’s freeze represents a “minor” rightward shift, but it’s proof that he recognizes the new political reality. Moving to the center is his only option if “he wants to get re-elected.”
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