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Politics

GOP Devalues Obama's Puny Pay 'Freeze'

November 28, 2010 - 6:00pm

President Barack Obama's order to freeze federal salaries drew yawns from Florida Republicans who urged the administration to get serious about its cost-cutting campaign.

Obama said he needs to cap the government's civilian paychecks in response to the fiscal "irresponsibility of the past decade." He estimated that the two-year freeze would save $2 billion in fiscal 2011, $28 billion over five years and $60 billion over 10 years.

But noting that the current federal deficit stands at $1.3 trillion, Republicans were unimpressed with the president's puny economy measure. And they put the deficit issue right back on Obama & Co.

I appreciate the presidents newfound willingness to get spending under control, especially after he and other Washington Democrats spent the last two years piling up the largest deficits in history," said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta.

But Rooney said Obama's initiative "barely makes a dent" in the deficits that have swollen since Democrats took power.

"In 2008, federal spending per household was $25,000. Today, it's $31,000, and under President Obama's most recent budget, it would reach $36,000 by 2020. That is unsustainable," said Rooney, who was elected to a second term this month.

To generate more substantial savings, Rooney has proposed freezing discretionary, nondefense spending at pre-2008 levels and setting strict caps on federal spending, which would save $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. That's nearly 30 times more than Obama's salary freeze is projected to yield.

"I hope President Obama will consider this further-reaching proposal," Rooney said.

U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., offered another robust alternative: a 10 percent across-the-board budget cut at nondefense agencies and a hiring freeze on federal employees.

LeMieux estimates that a 10 percent cut at "nonsecurity" agencies would save $479 billion over 10 years. If applied to all agencies -- including the Defense Department, Veterans Administration and Homeland Security -- the savings would rise to $1.3 trillion.

LeMieux also challenged the administration to curb the growth in the federal work force. Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 3 percent increase in federal employment over the next decade, LeMieux figures that will mean an addition of 85,155 workers (based on the 2.84 million employees as of September 2009).

"Taking the 85,155 workers to be hired over the next 10 years, a freeze would save $57.6 billion," according to an analysis that LeMieux's office provided to Sunshine State News.

Significantly, critics panned the president's plan for failing to haltannual pay hikes that come with grade-step promotions. Only cost-of-living adjustments are frozen, and those amounted to just 2 percent last year.

Officials acknowledged that the president's action would not necessarily impede future federal hiring. They also indicated that the effect on local economies would be "minimal," suggesting that the government payroll would essentially remain business-as-usual.

Still, Jeffrey Zients, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, warned that a freeze -- last imposed in 1986 -- is "the first of many difficult steps that will be taken in carrying out the president's philosophy of cutting costs and doing more with less."

A statement released by the administration amplified: "This freeze is not to punish federal workers or to disrespect the work that they do. It is the first of many actions we will take in the upcoming budget to put our nation on sound fiscal footing -- which will ask for some sacrifice from us all."

Previously, Obama froze salaries for all senior White House officials and, in last years budget, he proposed extending that freeze to other top political appointees.

Meanwhile, household incomes in the District of Columbia and surrounding affluent counties of Virginia and Maryland -- home to growing legions of federal employees -- have risen sharply while the national economy has slumped.

A USA Today analysis found that total federal compensation for federal workers has jumped 37 percent over 10 years, after inflation, compared to 8.8 percent for private workers. Federal workers earned an average of $123,000 in 2009, double the private average of $61,000.

A Washington Post poll in October found that 52 percent of Americans believe federal workers are overpaid. About half of respondents said they believe federal employees work "less hard" than their peers in the private sector.

Modest as the president's plan appears, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka likened it to a "race to the bottom."

Calling the freeze "bad" for middle class, economy and business, Trumpka said, "We need to invest in creating jobs, not undermining the ones we have. The president talked about the need for shared sacrifice, but theres nothing shared about Wall Street and CEOs making record profits and bonuses while working people bear the brunt."

Though it's taking shots from the left and right, Zients said he expects that the lame-duck Congress will "go to work immediately" on Obama's proposal.

--

Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

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