Obama still getting push back on pay freeze for federal workers

President Obama's proposal would freeze pay for federal workers but not eliminate step raises or bonuses.
President Obama's proposal would freeze pay for federal workers but not eliminate step raises or bonuses. (Getty Images)
By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 8, 2010; 12:45 AM

Lately, President Obama has been upsetting core supporters with great speed.

His agreement to extend tax breaks for the rich, if only for two years, left many otherwise loyal supporters fuming.

When you're under attack, it's always comforting to have the warmth of home. But if home for the boss-in-chief is the hearth of the federal workplace, he will find the fire flickering, dampened by his plan to freeze employee pay.

Although they are not a monolith, many in the government's workforce cheered his election. That's certainly true for the federal unions that worked so hard for Obama. He sharply disappointed them when he reversed course last week by abandoning the 1.4 percent raise he had earlier recommended - only to adopt the Republican pay freeze position.

Yet he didn't go as far as some Republicans and a report last week by his deficit commission suggested. Even with the freeze, many federal workers would still make more money next year because of longevity-based step increases and bonuses.

Washington area members of Congress, including the House majority leader, are among those pushing against a two-year freeze. Eight House members, including Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), said Congress should consider a one-year freeze. They said a second year could be reconsidered later as part of a larger deficit-reduction program.

In a letter to the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the members said, "We do not believe civil servants should be unfairly targeted outside the context of a comprehensive approach to the federal budget simply because they carry out the work of the federal government."

In addition to Hoyer, Reps. James P. Moran Jr., Gerald E. Connolly and Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, Chris Van Hollen, John P. Sarbanes and Donna F. Edwards of Maryland, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District signed the letter. All but Wolf are Democrats.

Any adjustments to pay beyond fiscal year 2011 should "be reserved for the 112th Congress," which begins next month, they added, "where federal pay can be considered in the context of a more comprehensive approach to deficit reduction."

When that more comprehensive approach is debated in Congress, it's a sure bet the step increase system and bonuses will be a GOP target.

To explain, here's a quick primer on federal pay because Uncle Sam doesn't make things simple:

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