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Early Winter for Feds: Obama Proposes Two-year Federal Pay Freeze

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President Barack Obama announced a two-year federal pay freeze yesterday, amid ongoing concern over the $1.4 trillion deficit.

Obama said the proposal – which applies to all federal workers, including civilians in the Defense Department (but not military personnel) — was a tough decision to make, but the bloated  federal budget deficit demanded “broad sacrifice.”

“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,” he said at a press conference Monday afternoon.

“I did not reach this decision easily,” he added. “This is not a line item on a federal ledger; these are people’s lives.”

About 1.9 million members of the federal workforce are expected to be affected, and the proposal is estimated to save $60 billion over 10 years.

Still, some observers note the politics behind the proposal. The New York Times reports Obama’s move could act as an “appeal to Republican leaders to find a common approach to restoring the nation’s economic and fiscal health,” especially after Republicans retook control of the House of Representatives in a midterm election Obama called a “shellacking.”

In fact, the president will host Democratic and Republican congressional leaders today, to begin mapping out what the legislative and political future will look like. It is the first such sit-down between both parties since the elections, The Times reports.

And the issues are almost certain to raise hackles.

Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients said the federal pay freeze would likely be only the first of “many difficult steps ahead,” as OMB begins shaping the 2012 budget.

Zients, who is also the federal chief performance officer, said the steps going forward to put the nation on sound economic footing will “ask for all of us to sacrifice.”

But in terms of practicing what he preaches, Zients said the president has already walked the walk.

After Obama took office, he froze the salaries of top White House officials, Zients said, and he has also taken steps to limit the pay of political appointees.

Federal Times reports Obama’s proposal was largely pilloried by federal unions and advocacy groups.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal union said the pay freeze was a “superficial, panicked reaction to the deficit commission report.”

A presidential commission focused on reducing the deficit and chaired by two Obama appointees released two weeks ago a draft of their report calling for federal pay freezes two weeks ago.

The Times reports the final version of the panel’s recommendations are expected later this week.

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