Monday, November 29, 2010


You may already know that President Obama has announced that he's freezing the pay of federal workers, excluding uniformed military personnel, for two years. Steve Benen responds:

For all I know, this might polls well. The public in general may like the idea of freezing these workers' pay, and the move will likely generate at least tepid praise from congressional Republicans.

But it's exceedingly annoying anyway, and I wish the White House wouldn't do stuff like this.

For one thing, it's really not what the economy needs. Granted, we're not talking about a lot of money, but to grow the economy, we need workers to have more money in their pockets, not less. A pay freeze is an anti-stimulus.

For another, if the White House expects a political reward for this, officials are likely to be disappointed....

I also assume this would poll well. Earlier in the year, New Jersey governor Chris Christie was struggling in public opinion polls in his home state -- but voters, including Democrats and those in union households, overwhelmingly favored curbing state workers' pay, and as he's been more confrontational with state employee unions, Christie's poll numbers have risen. And this is in what's usually regarded as a blue state. (Recent polls indicate that there's majority support in New Jersey for layoffs of state workers.)

So I understand why the White House is doing what it's doing -- government workers are a very easy scapegoat at this moment.

But Steve Benen is right about the futility of using this move as a negotiating tactic. Republicans aren't going to give him anything in return for this. First of all, they don't believe any quid from Democrats ever justifies a quo. Ever. Everyone but (apparently) the people in the White House understands that by now. Second, Republicans just don't think a freeze amounts to much.

We know this is dead on arrival because Fox Nation is already up with a post declaring the pay freeze "bogus," according to the well-known fiscal experts Rush Limbaugh, also cited is Jim Hoft of the blog Gateway Pundit, who calls the freeze "Kabuki." Reason? They say it's because federal workers now make double what private-sector counterparts make. They say this is something "the state-run media won't tell you," but their source is an August article from that radical samizdat publication USA Today, and they leave out a few details when they tell you this:

"Federal workers have been awarded bigger average pay and benefit increases than private employees for nine years in a row."

So this began back when we had an all-Republican federal government. (And please don't tell me that right-wingers have learned the error of their ways and now loathe George W. Bush for this kind of thing -- his book is still #1 at Amazon, and not even Sarah Palin can dislodge him.)

"Public employee unions say the compensation gap reflects the increasingly high level of skill and education required for most federal jobs and the government contracting out lower-paid jobs to the private sector in recent years."

Which is plausible. But no explanation is likely to damp down the outrage in this environment, especially when Republicans' baseline is something like this:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who will head the panel overseeing federal pay, says he wants a pay freeze and prefers a 10% pay cut. "It's stunning when you see what's happened to federal compensation," he says. "Every metric shows we're heading in the wrong direction."

Obama would probably need to announce an across-the-board 10% cut and staffing cuts -- and even then Republicans would say that had to be the minimum, and wouldn't offer anything in return.

So I understand the temptation to do this. But it's pointless.

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