Necessary move

Published 9:15 am Tuesday, November 30, 2010


As unpleasant and unpopular as it might be, President Obama’s decision to freeze civilian federal workers’ pay for two years was necessary.

In announcing his decision, the president spoke of the need for federal employees to share in the sacrifices that workers throughout the nation are making. Unions that represent federal workers called the decision a political move at workers’ expense and bemoaned the impact on the affected workers, who had been scheduled to get a 1.4 percent pay raise next year. But as much as the president’s move may have been political — what presidential decisions aren’t? — it was also practical. The wage freeze will save an estimated $2 billion in the current fiscal year and $28 billion over five years. That may be only a small dent in the government’s gigantic budget deficit, yet it’s a dent that needs to be made.

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And as unwelcome as it will be to those affected, the freeze falls right into line with the experience of many, perhaps most, American non-government employees over the past few years. Indeed, a wage freeze is a better outcome in a tough economy than that for the millions of non-government employees who have been laid off. Federal employees have come to be seen as beneficiaries of a system where their employment is virtually guaranteed, something that doesn’t sit well with the majority of Americans whose incomes and jobs are always at risk.

Most importantly, the president’s decision points to the likelihood that some real attention may be paid to the swelling budget deficit that is going to drag America down unless it is soon addressed. It may be a bitter drop in the bucket, but it is a start.