Political jitters caused by Tuesday's California taxpayer revolt will make it easier for President Carter to hold a 5.5 percent pay lid on the October pay raise due federal and military personnel.
Politicians everywhere were jolted by lopsided California vote on a constitutional amendment cutting property taxes and limiting the state's power to raise prices for other services.
Members of Congress who are already running scared (this is an election year) had earlier agreed to sit out any federal pay raise this year. Now they have begun to make token cuts in federal spending programs. They are acting under the theory that the best way to be a leader (and remain in office) is to find out where people are going and then get out in front of them. The direction, for the moment, is economy in government.
The congressional decision to freeze top federal pay means no more raises this year for anybody in government getting $47,500 or more. That decision, plus the California "earthquake" on Proposition 13, also makes it likely Congress will go along with the federal-military pay limit. President Carter will formally propose it in August.
Federal white collar workers, by law, are supposed to get annual (October) raises based on the percentage the government says matches pay increases for like jobs in industry. That data is not out yet. But all signs would indicate a "comparability" boost of between 6.5 percent and 7.3 percent.
Carter, however, announced that the government (rather, the government's white collar workers) would lead the way in ihis voluntary wage-price restraint program. He has ordered them to take 5.5 percent or less.
Federal unions are cranking out lots of press releases, organizing protests and wearing out a lot of shoe leather on Capitol Hill. Idea is to get Congress to overturn the President's pay plan, and let civil servants have full catch-up-with-industry raises. That just is not in the cards this year.
Much is made, especially in this government-dominated town, about the clout of the millions of federal workers and military personnel and their families. But that clout does not amount to much except in the Washington suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. When put beside the votes in Congress or the rest of the country in an antibig government, antibureauerat climate, it amounts to even less than usual.
Carter administration officials deny they have been running an "antibureaucrat" campaign in their drive to sell Congress and the public on the need for civil service reform. They say they want to dismantle creaky bureaucratic machinery, but not the people who run the machine.
Be that as it may, the widely-reported (sometimes wildly-interpreted) arguments for "reform" have given many citizens, magazines and newspapers hard feelings for federal workers. The public has been told that it is impossible to fire incompetents in government, that veterans get lifetime free rides in the bureaucracy, and that many top-paid executives (whose income is triple the U.S. family income) are tired, uninspired, fire-proof drones.
Whatever the intentions of the reform salesmen, they have not helped the image of the career civil servant who - in the best of times - needs all the image breaks he or she can get.
Take Left Foot, Stick In Mouth: A top federal official almost got himself blown out of a neighborhood choir the other night. He blames it all on Bullet madness which has afflicted Washington since the recent win of a local basketball team.
During he team's drive to fame and fortune, it appeared several times as if they might lose the tournament. At that point the coach adopted the immortal words of a Texas disc jockey, and warned a doubting public and press that "the opera ain't over until the fat lady sings!" The Phrase has entered the language.
With that in mind, return to the case of the G-man who regularly warbles with a large male-female singing group. When their Friday practice broke up, he later confessed to friends, he started to blurt out "Well the fat lady has sung. Let's go home."
Fate stepped in. The G-man noticed a sizable soprano who has a lead role, and VIP husband to boot. Rather than giving in to Bulletmania, the official recovered his cool at the microphone and instead whished all a happy evening. He figures he saved himself a punchout, and maybe his career as well.