Obama to freeze pay for civilian federal workforce

OBAMA TO FREEZE PAY FOR CIVILIAN FEDERAL WORKFORCE…. President Obama announced this morning his call for a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal workers, as part of a larger effort to reduce spending and cut the deficit.

The president’s proposal will effectively wipe out plans for a 1.4 percent across-the-board raise in 2011 for 2.1 million civilian federal government employees, including those working at the Defense Department, but the freeze would not affect the nation’s uniformed military personnel. The president has frozen the salaries of his own top White House staff members since taking office 22 months ago.

“Clearly this is a difficult decision,” said Jeffrey Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and the government’s chief performance officer. “Federal workers are hard-working and dedicated.” But given the deficit, Mr. Zients added, “we believe this is the first of many difficult steps ahead.”

The pay freeze will save $2 billion in the current fiscal year that ends in September 2011, $28 billion over five years and more than $60 billion over 10 years, officials said. That represents just a tiny dent in a $1.3 trillion annual deficit, but it offers a symbolic gesture toward public anger over unemployment, the anemic economic recovery and rising national debt.

For all I know, this might poll 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. Remember the discretionary spending freeze the administration talked up in January? If memory serves, the public didn’t notice and congressional Republicans complained anyway.

But what I would have really preferred to see is some kind of trade. If the president is willing to accept a civilian pay freeze, fine. I wish he wouldn’t, but that’s where he’s prepared to go. But in exchange for this concession, Obama appears to be getting literally nothing in return.

This week, the president will sit down with Republican leaders from the House and Senate, and will say something to the effect of, “Well, I signaled a willingness to make a tough concession with the pay freeze. What kind of concessions are you prepared to make?” Boehner and McConnell will reply, “We’re not willing to make any concessions at all”; the meeting will end; and we’ll be left with 2.1 million Americans with less buying power.

The president has some extraordinary strengths. Negotiating tactics do not appear to be among them.