President Obama yesterday proposed freezing wages for civilian federal employees.

That includes 173,500 federal workers who live in Virginia.

The two-year wage freeze--an effort to reduce the federal deficit--would save $2 billion in fiscal year 2011, $28 billion over the next five years, and more than $60 billion over the next 10 years, according to the White House.

It would not apply to members of the military.

"I did not reach this decision easily," Obama said in announcing the proposal. "This is not just a line item on a federal ledger. These are people's lives."

But, he said, reducing the deficit "is going to require broad sacrifice. And that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government."

Obama's announcement comes the day before a scheduled meeting with Republican leaders.

Some of those leaders have already backed a pay freeze for federal workers.

Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, who represents Orange, Culpeper and Louisa counties and will be House majority leader when the new Congress convenes in January, said Republicans proposed a pay freeze months ago. It was one of the first ideas backed by his "You Cut" program, in which people vote for how to cut federal spending.

"Many federal employees do important work, but this is exactly the kind of savings measure we have to make in order to begin to restore some fiscal sanity in America, especially considering recent reports of federal salaries significantly outpacing private-sector salaries," Cantor said in a statement. "With so many Americans tightening their belts, Washington must do the same."

The proposal was not welcomed by federal employee groups.

American Federation of Government Employees president John Gage called it "a superficial panic reaction to the draconian cuts his deficit commission will recommend."

Obama's deficit-cutting commission is supposed to make recommendations this week.

"A federal pay freeze saves peanuts at best and, while he may mean it as just a public relations gesture, this is no time for political scapegoating," Gage added in a statement. "The American people didn't vote to stick it to a VA nursing assistant making $28,000 a year or a border patrol agent earning $34,000 per year."

Many private-sector workers have already seen wage freezes, as have state and local government employees.

According to a USA Today report, over the past 10 years federal workers' compensation has risen nearly 37 percent (adjusted for inflation), compared with 8.8 percent for workers in the private sector.

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