“The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice, and that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government,” Obama said in a press conference announcing the budget-tightening measure.
Jeffrey Zients, a deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget, says the freeze itself would save taxpayers more than $5 billion over two years and, because of delayed wage increases, those savings would top $28 billion in five years’ time and $60 billion in a decade.
Obama’s proposal needs congressional approval, but Republicans have recently called for pay freezes themselves and are likely to back the president’s plan.
“It’s a great start. I’ll applaud when [Obama] does the right thing, and he did in this case,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told CNN. “I’d like to see things go further. Personally, I would like to see the overall payroll cut by 10 percent.”
Labor leaders, however, were quick to express outrage. John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees and represents 600,000 members, accused the government of using federal employees as scapegoats for the deficit problem and called it “a slap at working people.”
While I whole-heartedly empathize with those wondering how they will make ends meet without even a cost-of-living adjustment, I have to disagree with the “scapegoat” terminology. No one likes a pay freeze, but it’s a trend that is being seen all too often in the working world these days, so it’s not like federal employees are being singled out.
While swearing in top White House aides during his first day in office on Jan. 21, 2009, Obama announced their salaries would be frozen because of the economy. He followed that up by freezing political appointees’ salaries and eliminating their bonuses in last year’s budget. In addition, last April, Congress members followed the president’s lead and voted to freeze their own pay.
As millions of working-class Americans can attest, they, too, have been seeing fewer raises. Pay freezes have been put into place at many companies across the country since the economic downturn began, and the list continues to grow.
Yet it seems that Wall Street, which shoulders a good portion of the blame for the economic mess we all find ourselves in, is one of the few places impervious to belt-tightening austerity measures that the rest of the U.S. has been forced to implement.
Record bonuses were handed out last year, and a recent analysis by The Wall Street Journal finds top Wall Street companies will shell out a whopping $144 billion in pay and bonuses this year — a new record, and a 4 percent increase over last year.
I think that’s the real slap in the face. Apparently, when they faced a crisis — of their own making, I might add — it was perfectly OK for the rest of the country to step up and shoulder some of the burden. After all, it is our duty to help fellow Americans in their time of need, and the problems they created affects us all.
But as they continue to rake in money hand over fist, the economic woes facing the country are our problem, not theirs, and it is up to us to dig ourselves out.
It’s a hard lesson but one I hope we remember the next time Wall Street leaders let their greed drive investors from one bad decision to another and their companies, once again, find themselves on the brink of collapse.