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

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

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Monday, November 29, 2010; 11:12 PM

Winter is not officially here yet, but a freeze is falling over the federal workplace.

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Don't expect a spring thaw.

Unlike Mother Nature, who provides warm conditions at regular intervals, Uncle Sam plans to freeze federal salaries for two years.

It's a move that leaves federal employees cold.

"This would save $2 billion over the rest of this fiscal year and $28 billion in cumulative savings over the next five years," President Obama said Monday.

"I did not reach this decision easily. This is not just a line item on a federal ledger. These are people's lives. They're doctors and nurses who care for our veterans; scientists who search for better treatments and cures; men and women who care for our national parks and secure our borders and our skies; Americans who see that the Social Security checks get out on time, who make sure that scholarships come through, who devote themselves to our safety. They're patriots who love their country and often make many sacrifices to serve their country."

His kind words didn't pacify federal union leaders who have been among Obama's most ardent supporters. With the strained relations they had during the administration of George W. Bush still fresh in their minds, they continue to support Obama.

Nonetheless, his plan to freeze federal salaries is certainly the biggest blow to that relationship since he's been in office.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, was so upset, you'd think he was talking about a Republican.

"This proposal is a superficial panic reaction to the draconian cuts his deficit commission will recommend," Gage said. "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. 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."

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said she is "very disappointed with the White House's position" and plans to make an end run around the president.

We "intend to explore all of our options, including working with Congress to overturn it," Kelley added.


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