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Obama's plan to freeze federal salaries gets a cold reception

Washington Post's Lisa Rein talks to federal workers about President Obama's proposal to stop pay increases for two million federal employees.

Republicans were pleased, but they didn't want to sound too happy with something their arch-rival proposed. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the top Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the freeze "is both necessary and, quite frankly, long over-due."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the ranking Republican on the committee's federal workforce panel, called it "a step in the right direction. However, the proposal does not appear to curb step increases. If that is the case, this announcement is nothing more than a hollow press release. At the end of the day, this policy will serve only to frustrate current employees while doing nothing to curb our debts."

The freeze won't make federal employees destitute. They were not about to get rich off the 1.4 percent raise Obama earlier proposed, which was just above freeze levels anyway. But they don't like being singled out.

Make no mistake. Federal employees recognize the need for all to participate in efforts to cut the nation's deficit. They agree with the president when he said: "These are also times where all of us are called on to make some sacrifices. And I'm asking civil servants to do what they've always done - play their part."

Their concern is they are doing more than their part.

The deficit "was not borne out of rising and exorbitant federal employee salaries, and federal employees should not face an unfair burden simply because they carry out the work of this country," said Jessica Klement, government affairs director of the Federal Managers Association.

On the fairness point, Obama emphasized that the "freeze does not apply to the men and women of our Armed Forces, who . . . bear enormous burdens with our nation at war." But it does apply to the many federal civilians who are risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Thousands of civilian federal employees are serving alongside our armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and other dangerous posts around the world," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). "While the president, justifiably, is not proposing to freeze military pay, federal employees working in those war zones and facing the same risks of death and injury should receive the same respect."

Furthermore, including military personnel, except for those at war, "would have produced significantly more savings," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). "It would have also added an element of fairness: there has been parity between civilian and military pay raises for 22 of the past 28 years in which raises were authorized."

Excluding civilians in war zones from the freeze makes good sense. The parity argument also is a good one and has tradition on its side. But as Jeffrey Zients, the Office of Management and Budget's deputy director for management, said, "With the members of the military deploying on a moment's notice, it does not make sense to set pay based on their location at a specific moment in time."

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