WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration's decision to support a two-year pay freeze on federal employees is sparking yet another wave of angst and eyebrow raising among progressives.
The critics are the expected -- mainly progressive economists and union officials. And in addition to condemning the president's position on both policy and morality grounds, the question they're asking in private is, what exactly did the White House get in return for the chip it gave away?
"Today's announcement of a two-year pay freeze for federal workers is bad for the middle class, bad for the economy and bad for business," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. "No one is served by our government participating in a 'race to the bottom' in wages. We need to invest in creating jobs, not undermining the ones we have. The president talked about the need for shared sacrifice, but there's nothing shared about Wall Street and CEOs making record profits and bonuses while working people bear the brunt. It is time to get our nation back on track, but we should not do so by placing an even greater burden on the middle class."
"This proposal to freeze federal pay is a superficial, panicked reaction to the deficit commission report," stated AFGE National President John Gage. "This pay freeze amounts to nothing more than political public relations. This is no time for scapegoating. The American people didn't vote to stick it to a VA nursing assistant making $28,000 a year or a border patrol agent earning $34,000 per year.
"President Obama asks federal workers to share the sacrifice, but it's unconscionable for him to attack the wages of federal working people while the millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street not only get their bailouts and astronomical bonuses; they also get their tax cuts," concluded Gage.
"It makes no sense to single them out for wage freezes at this time," said Tamara Draut, vice president of policy and programs at Demos.
Greg Anrig, vice president of programs at The Century Foundation said the move reinforced the concern that the focus of political debate in Washington is shifting from jobs to deficit reduction and fiscal austerity. "It's far to soon to be doing that," he said.
And yet, if the president needed some political breathing room, he was granted a bit from congressional leadership. While incoming Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) didn't dismiss the idea outright (choosing instead to applaud the broader goal while asking for more time to review the specifics), incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) took credit for the proposal. Demonizing federal employees and their pay rates has become a veritable GOP religion, and it would be far-fetched to see them giving Obama praise for their platform.
"I am encouraged by President Obama's proposal to freeze non-military federal pay for the next two years," said Cantor. "This past May, House Republicans -- prompted by YouCut voters -- offered the very same spending-cut proposal on the floor of the House. The YouCut proposal was one of many specific spending reductions offered by House Republicans over the past two years, and we are pleased that President Obama appears ready to join our efforts. As the recent election made clear, Americans are fed up with a government that spends too much, borrows too much and grows too much."