Tuesday, November 30, 2010

If unions can't support a pay freeze, is there any budget-cutting that they would support?

President Obama changed course on the idea of a federal pay freeze and adopted a proposal put forth by Republicans months ago. Eric Cantor had proposed the pay freeze as part of the YouCut proposals on how to cut federal spending. Democrats had reflexively opposed the idea when it was put forth by a Republican, but things will be different now that Obama is proposing it. It is delicious to remember this bit of arrogance from Obama last year.
The common ground found by Obama and Cantor -- whether by coincidence or intention -- also speaks to the changing roles in their animus-filled relationship.

During a White House summit in 2009, Obama said he would "keep on talking to Eric Cantor. Someday, sooner or later, he's going to say, 'Boy, Obama had a good idea.'"

Now, it's Obama's team that is leaning toward Cantor's way of thinking -- at least on the federal pay freeze.
But the usual suspects are out there to oppose even this common-sense idea to freeze federal workers' salaries while employees across the country are worried not about pay freezes, but about keeping their jobs.
Federal employee union leaders said the president was playing politics with worker paychecks.

“If it’s not public relations or political, you tell me what it is,” said John Gage, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees union. “This decision was made because they are panicked. The deficit commission report is coming and everyone expects there will be draconian cuts in there. They wanted to get on the bandwagon.”

House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) offered the faintest praise for Obama’s idea, saying he would “review” the proposal but avoiding a pledge to take it up in the lame-duck session. He also said including the military in the pay freeze would have increased savings and added “an element of fairness.”

Three liberal advocacy groups blasted a pay freeze as damaging to the economic recovery. John Irons of the Economic Policy Institute, Tamara Draut of Demos and Greg Anrig of The Century Foundation said it was a mistake to freeze pay until the economic recovery takes hold more firmly.

Gage said it was bad politics on Obama’s part to cave to Republican demands off the bat since Boehner would likely come back with a more draconian proposal, such as a five-year pay freeze. He added that the Republican proposal for a net hiring freeze would jeopardize critical programs.
Gage continued his strange perception of the pay situation of federal employees.
American Federation of Public Employees President John Gage yesterday derided President Obama's federal pay freeze as a "slap at working people."
Oh, please. As the WSJ points out, federal employees have been doing quite well in recent years.
federal employment has grown by a remarkable 17% since 2007 to an estimated 2.1 million nonmilitary full-time workers (excluding 600,000 postal workers). This is the largest federal work force since 1992, when civilian employment at the Pentagon began to shrink rapidly after the Cold War.

These federal employees operate in a pay-and-benefit universe that no longer exists in the private economy. According to recent analyses by USA Today, total compensation for federal workers has risen 37% over 10 years—after inflation—compared to 8.8% for private workers. Federal workers earned average compensation of $123,000 in 2009, double the private average of $61,000. Unions like to argue that federal jobs are unique, yet in occupations that exist both in government and the private economy—nurses, surveyors, janitors, cooks—the federal government pays 20% more than private firms.
If freezing pay that has risen substantially in recent years is a "slap at working people" in the view of a union official, it is clear that the unions will never, ever accept any of the necessary budget-cutting that needs to be done. The pay freeze will save a relatively minute part of our deficit, but the opposition that Obama's proposal provoked is emblematic about what a barrier that the public employees' union will be to any sort of realistic approach to government spending.