President Obama has called for a two-year freeze on the salaries of some federal workers. If the proposal is approved by Congress, it is estimated that it will save $5 billion during that two-year period. Unless a freeze is approved, federal workers would automatically get a pay increase (!) as a result of a 1990 law.
Republicans have said that the President is just hopping on board a proposal that Republicans made months ago, and others are criticizing the pay freeze as a drop in the bucket when compared to the budget deficit. I don’t care who gets credit, I’m just glad to see that the President is focused on deficit reduction as a worthy goal, and I hope Congress agrees. And as for the size of the savings, I’m hoping that the pay freeze proposal will be the first of a long series of deficit reduction initiatives that will include things like actually cutting the head count in the federal workforce, eliminating unnecessary agencies and departments, lopping off programs that we can no longer afford, eliminating ill-advised subsidies, limiting the size of congressional staffs, restricting congressional travel, and many, many others. (I’m simply mentioning these as examples; I think there are lots of places where cutting should occur.)
When it comes to deficit reduction, I’m a big proponent of the wise words attributed to former Senator Everett Dirksen: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money.” We shouldn’t throw up our hands because no one bit of belt-tightening will result in a balanced budget. Instead, the focus should be on taking a number of spending reduction steps that will cumulatively have that ultimate desired effect.