Yesterday, President Barack Obama announced a two-year freeze on federal wages (non-civilian defense would be excluded) that would save $5 billion:
“The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice, and that sacrifice must be shared by employees of the federal government,” Mr. Obama told reporters. He called federal workers “patriots who love their country” but added, “I’m asking civil servants to do what they’ve always done” for the nation.
The pay freeze amounted to an opening bid as the president and Republican Congressional leaders begin jousting in earnest over tax and spending policy. It also illustrated how Mr. Obama can use his executive power on occasion to get ahead of newly elected Republicans; they had been talking about making such a move when they assume control of the House and additional Senate seats in January.
But while the move represents a gesture toward public anger over the anemic economic recovery and rising national debt, the $5 billion to be saved over two years will barely dent a deficit that has exceeded $1 trillion for the past two years.
Obama is almost taking a page right out of the House Republicans’ Pledge to America, where the soon-to-be majority made a promise to take on this issue by putting a hiring freeze in place (and as Philip Klein notes, they’ve supported a pay freeze, as well).
While this is a start, it’s not nearly enough. As former Congressman Bob Barr wrote yesterday in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, other countries are beginning to cut the large numbers of government employees:
The United Kingdom announced last month it would reduce the number of bureaucrats in its government by 500,000 over the next five years. Russia, home to some of the world’s best bureaucrats, seems to comprehend the need to cut the government payroll in tough economic times. President Dmitry Medvedev plans to trim 100,000 jobs over the next three years; a 20 percent cut in public employment.
Even Cuban President Raul Castro appears to understand the benefits of a reduced government workforce; announcing in August that he would reduce the official work force by half a million over the course of six months, and by one million over the next five years.
Barr also notes a study by USA Today that gives us an idea of how wasteful and generous the government has been with taxpayer dollars:
At a time when workers’ pay and benefits have stagnated, federal employees’ average compensation has grown to more than double what private sector workers earn, a USA TODAY analysis finds.
Federal workers have been awarded bigger average pay and benefit increases than private employees for nine years in a row. The compensation gap between federal and private workers has doubled in the past decade.
Federal civil servants earned average pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009 while private workers made $61,051 in total compensation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The data are the latest available.
The federal compensation advantage has grown from $30,415 in 2000 to $61,998 last year.
Some would argue that government workers are more skilled, however, the percentage in raises far out pace that of the private sector, growing at a rate of 36.9% compared to 8.8%.
But like the fight over earmarks, this is largely symbolic. We don’t need a freeze, we need a wholesale cuts in government jobs and pay.