President Barack Obama’s proposed pay freeze for civilian federal employees drew criticism Monday from federal employee unions, praise from Republican leaders and a tepid response from a key House Democrat.
The proposal would restrict civilian pay to its current level until 2012, which the White House estimates would save $60 billion over the next 10 years.
The major unions representing federal employees immediately attacked the proposal, saying it would hurt the government’s ability to retain and attract high-quality workers while doing little to make a dent in the deficit.
John Gage, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 600,000 government workers, dismissed the proposal as a “public relations gimmick.” “I’m tired of having federal workers scapegoated,” he said in a phone call with reporters.
But House Minority Leader and Speaker-designate John Boehner not only praised the pay proposal, but called for even more cost cutting by imposing a federal hiring freeze.
“I welcome President Obama’s announcement, and hope he will build on it by embracing much-needed steps to reduce both the size and the cost of government, including the net federal hiring freeze Republicans propose in our ‘Pledge to America,’” the Ohio Republican said, referring to the House GOP’s agenda. “Without a hiring freeze, a pay freeze won’t do much to rein in a federal bureaucracy that added hundreds of thousands of employees to its payroll over the last two years while the private sector shed millions of jobs.”
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), ranking member of the House Budget Committee, echoed that demand in his own statement.
But outgoing House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer responded more cautiously, calling for a “shared sacrifice” among civilian and military federal employees, with the exception of military personnel serving in combat zones. Under the president’s proposal unveiled Monday, military employees at the Defense Department would not be subject to the freeze.
“In the coming days, I will review closely President Obama’s proposal for its balance between fiscal responsibility and the need to recruit and retain a federal workforce able to provide the level of service that the American people expect,” The Maryland Democrat said. “Because meaningful deficit reduction cannot be achieved through a piecemeal approach to trimming federal spending, I am hopeful that the administration will propose a comprehensive and serious program for deficit reduction that recognizes the need for a comprehensive approach.”
Neither Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) nor Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued statements Monday on the pay freeze.
Earlier this year, the Senate rejected one proposal that would have frozen federal civilian employee pay levels and a similar measure that would have blocked cost-of-living increases as well as raises and bonuses.
But with the president on board with the pay freeze, “chances are slim” that the unions could stop Congress from voting to take away the scheduled 1.4 percent pay increase for 2011, Gage said.
‘Not Just Faceless Bureaucrats’
As politicians step up their criticism of Washington, Gage said the union must wage a public relations campaign to fight the perception that the federal workforce is overpaid and underworked.