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Federal Employee Compensation Freeze

2010 December 14

          Reasonable and knowledgeable people agree that placing a hold on Federal employee compensation will have a less than insignificant (if not utterly imaginary) impact on the nation’s budget woes. So if it is agreed, given the size of the federal deficit and resultant accumulating debt, that the “freeze” accomplishes next to nothing in addressing those problems, what message did President Obama intend to send by announcing it? Was it merely symbolic – or something more?

          If it’s symbolic, what does it symbolize? Some (the cynics, perhaps?) say the Democratic President is a political pragmatist, clever to co-opt a Republican issue and thereby blunt the impact not only of his opponents’ fiscal arguments but of their “too liberal” claims and “socialist” labels. Others (the naïve, possibly?) think he’s implementing the freeze because he truly believes it’s the right thing to do. But if this President not only has been drawn to public service but has also been engaged in government work most of his adult life, why would he suddenly want to reduce its allure?

          More importantly, why would the President want to send the message – and this one is undeniable, isn’t it? – that all Federal employees, regardless of their responsibilities, workloads, and proficiencies, are not only overpaid but indistinguishable? (Full disclosure: My son is an employee of the Federal government.) A more thoroughgoing review of every agency and a more surgical cut within each department would have been much more appropriate and effective – and the Obama administration is said to be considering this further tactic as well. But if we agree with an opponent’s arguments – and even implement some of their conclusions – then we are certain to be sending the message that we also agree with at least some of their premises. And one of those premises is that if you’re a government employe, we don’t care who you are, how hard you work, what you do, or how much you care. Your job isn’t important — in fact it may not even be necessary — and you’re being paid too much.

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