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Michele Bachmann pushing measure to freeze federal salaries

WASHINGTON — Rep. Michele Bachmann will be front-and-center in the House Republicans’ latest messaging and policy effort today when she offers a procedural motion on freezing non-military federal salaries.

Bachmann’s proposal emerged victorious in the latest GOP YouCut poll, an online poll that asks users to choose between five cuts. Her office said it received about 87,000 votes.

Bachmann wants to eliminate a proposed 1.4 percent pay hike for non-military federal workers this year, a move Republicans say would save $2 billion this year over the president’s budget proposal. The military exemption, she said, is because “that’s not their sacrifice to make. It’s ours.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann announces YouCut winner via YouTube.

Bachmann’s cut bases itself on a March USA Today report that found federal salaries outstrip comparable wages in the private sector in eight of 10 jobs. On average, the report found, a federal worker makes $11,000 more per year than a comparable worker in industry, before considering benefit and retirement packages.

The White House did not return repeated requests for comment for this article. However, Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told Government Executive that media reports like USA Today’s were “misleading.”

Federal workers, he argued, are more likely to have a college degree (50 percent) than their private sector counterparts (about 33 percent). In addition, he said, federal employees are often on the job longer and with seniority comes pay raises.

“While there may be some remaining disparities,” Orszag added, “I think some of the more dramatic newspaper stories I’ve seen about that disparity are somewhat misleading.”

Interestingly enough, Orszag said the White House had considered recommending a freeze on federal salaries in proposing its Fiscal 2011 budget but ultimately decided against doing so.

Eye on November
Earlier this decade, a Republican president and Republican Congresses passed a massive tax cut (due to expire this year) that sent deficits soaring. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that were largely funded through emergency supplementals (that don’t have to be paid for when passed) added to that debt.

House Republicans, by and large, now say they would have done things differently, eschewing spending in favor of deficit reduction. Ergo, a temporary freezing of federal salaries has become part of the GOP’s operating mantra in the run-up to the November elections and is being led by a member (Bachmann) who wasn’t around for the profligate spending.

And the idea is gaining traction beyond the House.

Two Senate Republicans, including 2008 presidential nominee John McCain, introduced their own version of the federal pay freeze (they estimate a $2.6 billion savings) as part of the way to pay for a war supplemental funding bill currently being considered in that chamber. The newly elected Massachusetts Sen. (and newly minted GOP rock star) Scott Brown endorsed the idea in his campaign.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, the chief architect of YouCut, hailed Bachmann’s proposal.

“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,” Cantor said in a statement. “With so many tightening their belts, Washington must, too.”

That all having been said, barring a truly unexpected development, this procedural vote is likely to meet the same fate as the last one.

The procedural vote on the first YouCut winner, a $2.5 billion cut in welfare programs, failed by a vote of 177-240. All three Minnesota Republicans backed the move then, while all five state Democrats opposed it.

However, Bachmann said today’s vote will be just the first of many attempts by Republicans this year to roll back federal salaries.

“It’s a good beginning because it’s taking a poke at turning the ship away from out-of-control, off-the-cliff spending to saying instead of automatic increase, which is government’s mentality, automatic increase, maybe we need to take a page from reality which says that there aren’t automatic increases — as a matter of fact, there are cuts.”

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 05/27/2010 - 09:23 am.

    Michele Bachmann has never met a government check she didn’t like–or cash. She’s had nothing but government jobs her entire professional career (IRS, State Senate, U.S. Congress). She collects federal farm subsidies through her family’s farm. She collects government payments through her family’s clinic. She reaps the benefits of government pension programs and health care. And we’re supposed to believe Michele is concerned about runaway government spending?

  2. Submitted by James Hamilton on 05/27/2010 - 09:38 am.

    It looks like there’s some money to be saved on Congressional salaries and perks, too.

    I know in my heart of hearts that Rep. Bachmann will vote to reject a COLA this year.


    “The current salary (2010) for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year.”

    “A cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) increase takes effect annually unless Congress votes to not accept it.”

    “Members of Congress receive retirement and health benefits under the same plans available to other federal employees. They become vested after five years of full participation.”

    “Members of Congress are not eligible for a pension until they reach the age of 50, but only if they’ve completed 20 years of service. Members are eligible at any age after completing 25 years of service or after they reach the age of 62. Please also note that Members of Congress have to serve at least 5 years to even receive a pension.

    The amount of a congressperson’s pension depends on the years of service and the average of the highest 3 years of his or her salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.

    According to the Congressional Research Service, 413 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service as of Oct. 1, 2006. Of this number, 290 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $60,972. A total of 123 Members had retired with service under both CSRS and FERS or with service under FERS only. Their average annual pension was $35,952 in 2006.”

  3. Submitted by John Johnson on 05/27/2010 - 09:42 am.

    Excellent point, Karl. Also, federal salaries traditionally have increased much more under Republican administrations than under Democratic administrations. I don’t know why, since a majority of fed workers vote Dem, but that’s how it’s been.

    So much of the “private” lending and construction sector is backed by the government through loan guarantees and projects funded directly by the government. Many in these “private” industries cry foul about big government and scream nonsense about “taking our government back.” Perhaps by cutting fed salaries, they can even further reduce the quality of federal workers and oversight of the government agencies and programs that keep their “private” companies in business.

  4. Submitted by John Eidel on 05/27/2010 - 09:44 am.

    This “fiscal restraint” posturing by the GOP is really starting to get ridiculous. If Republicans were truly serious about balancing the budget, they would be offering proposals to cut spending on the things that we really spend money on, namely Social Security, Defense and Medicare/Medicaid. Instead, when Congressional Democrats propose modest cuts to the Medicare Advantage program as part of the health care bill, Republicans tell seniors that Obama is gutting their healthcare. If Republicans claim to represent fiscal responsibility they really should be made to put their money where their mouth is instead of throwing out token cuts that do virtually nothing to cut the deficit and hurt no one but traditionally Democratic constituencies.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/27/2010 - 10:05 am.

    If a critical mass of Tea Party candidates get swept into office in the GOP tidal wave heading towards DC this fall, we might actually see some of these cuts getting traction.

    We can expect to see Rep. Bachmann “hanging ten” on the crest of that wave….she’s just great, isn’t she?

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/27/2010 - 10:06 am.

    The amount of savings from this proposal will be minuscule. Though it is another nice sound bite from the Congresswoman.

    Setting aside increasing marginal tax rates, we’ve got a whole lot of “entitlements” sitting in tax expenditures that could do with some major pruning. There are other parts of the federal budget that also could use some cutting.

    Sec’y Gates just put the DOD’s budget on the chopping block. And when it comes to entitlements, Social Security is the very least of our concerns and is easily fixable with minor tweaks. The big problem is health care costs, and once we’ve had a bit of experience with the HCR system in practice, Congress will be adjusting the new HCR bill regularly, based on how the various experiments in cost control and reduction actually pan out.

    The US is certainly going to have to deal with its excessive debt and the fact its deficit is structural — that’s self-evident. And our political system doesn’t encourage politicians or voters to take their medicine early.

    There are many roads to addressing debt-reduction that don’t involve taking a hatchet to to the benefits people rely on. The goal is to get sufficient political will to tackle the problem from a number of directions at the same time. Like was actually accomplished over the decade from mid-80s (starting with the tax reform act) to the mid-90s.

    What Ms. Bachmann and what the GOP website offers is pure political theatre.

  7. Submitted by Joel Jensen on 05/27/2010 - 01:26 pm.

    Perhaps if private sector salaries and income had not flatlined for the last couple of decades there would be no gap (assuming one actually exists in an apples to apples comparison.)

    The public sector is the last area in which organized labor still has any significant impact.

    If the public sector has been able to keep any kind of reasonable increase in their income going over the last decade or more, I say good for them.

    I noticed they didn’t compare CEO salary.
    Wonder why not?

  8. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/27/2010 - 01:27 pm.

    Hmmm. “Great” isn’t the term I’d use to describe Ms. Bachmann, but to each his own.

    Some above have what I think are worthwhile points to make. Ms. Bachmann, not so much.

    Health care, in particular, will kill us, and not because nurses are being paid “above average” salaries, according to a hospital spokesperson regarding the current potential nurse’s strike, or even because doctors are generally paid far above average, as well. Medical personnel salaries are not driving medical costs. Profit is driving medical costs. We’ve made the mistake of turning a public service into a corporate enterprise, and we’re paying the (inflated, exorbitant) price for it.

    Since I lived for a dozen years without any health care coverage at all except what I could ill-afford out of my own pocket, I’m happy to have Medicare available, but like any benefit program, it tends to expand, rather than contract, and as a society, we cannot afford, even in the best of times, to spend a fifth or a quarter of our GDP on health care.

    Most of the federal budget – something over 70 percent – is tied up in entitlements, meaning Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and a sizable majority of what’s left goes to the defense department, where even the Secretary of Defense is now urging Congress to trim the departmental budget. Budget-cutters traditionally go after people and programs that make up a tiny portion of the budget, but that, as Mr. Schulze suggests, provide excellent, if fraudulent, political theater.

  9. Submitted by Joel Jensen on 05/27/2010 - 03:40 pm.

    To USA Today: A little more reporting and a little less spin would be appreciated.

    To those relying on these hacked up and distorted statistics, I’ll refer you to Mark Twain.

    First, the time period chosen may distort the level of changes in higher end federal government positions because towards the end of President Bush’s administration there were a significant number of top agency positions where vacancies had been created but not filled (for example 575 (24%) of the top positions at the Department of Homeland Security were vacant in May of 2007.) It’s not clear whether the analysis takes that into accout, but given the lack of rigour evident elsewhere, I’d be surprised if it were taken into account. If you are going to do a comparison, better not make it apples to hamburgers.

    Second, the USA Today article contained a widely quoted statement that: “When the recession started, the Transportation Department had only one person earning a salary of $170,000 or more. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees had salaries above $170,000.”

    Wow. Looks like when Obama got in he must have just thrown open the cash box.

    But later, the same USA Today article reports that: “Many top civil servants are prohibited from making more than an agency’s leader. But if Congress lifts the boss’ salary, others get raises, too. When the Federal Aviation Administration chief’s salary rose, nearly 1,700 employees’ had their salaries lifted above $170,000, too.”

    Last I looked, the Federal Aviation Administration was part of the Transportation Department.

    You might think USA Today would point out that connection. They didn’t bother. Instead, they obscure it.

    Back in 2007, the FAA salary range topped out at $168,000 with locality adjustments. (The small previous increase in 2006 followed a 3 year freeze, which left over 6000 generally older and more experienced FAA employees capped out.)

    In 2009, the salary range at FAA topped out at $171,000 ($177,000 with locality adustments).

    Effective January 2010, the statutory maximum pay rate applicable to FAA employees increased to $179,700, including locality pay.

    Given that progression and the “can’t earn more than your boss cap”, it’s not too difficult to see where the increase in numbers of those getting more than $170,000 came from. If USA Today had chosen $180,000, it would probably be Zero in 2007 and Zero in 2010 – but that would ruin the narrative.

    Third, the increase proposed by President Obama in January 2010 was the smallest since 1975.

    Just because it’s nonsense doesn’t make it simple.

  10. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/27/2010 - 03:50 pm.

    Since we’re talking deficit (annual) rather than debt (accumulated), we should look to current budgets, no? The budget for 2011 is ~$2,276B, so the top 5 areas that are responsible for the deficit are:

    * Defense: $912B, or 40.0%
    * Interest: $459B, or 20.2%
    * Income Security: $229B, or 10.1%
    * Net Entitlements: $151B, or 6.6%
    * Education/Training: $122B, or 5.4%

    Which is about 82% of the total budget, ergo about 82% of the total deficit.

    It’s interesting to note that the interest portion is due to past deficit spending, and that Republicans have historically outspent Democrats in terms of deficit spending by about a 3-to-1 ratio. And that Republicans have historically increased the defense budget.

    For those that believe the cost of the military is a pretty small percentage of the budget compared to bulging, wallowing, out-of-control government entitlements like Medicare and Social Security.

    Nope. Not so much. At least in terms of the deficit. Please see above.

  11. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/27/2010 - 04:57 pm.

    Were Social Security to be cut, many low-income seniors, workers who became disabled before retirement age, and surviving spouses and children of workers who died before retirement age would end up homeless and starving unless they could get help from the counties in which they live.

    Were it to disappear, Minnesota would lose
    $40,135,000 (2008 figures) in Social Security benefits paid to residents. Of this amount, Hennepin County receives 12,152,00 and Ramsey County 7,511,000. Such benefits are often modest — $498 per month on average in Minnesota, $540 in Hennepin County and $524 in Ramsey County.

    Cutting entitlement programs merely shifts unavoidable expenses to other units of government.

    DEFENSE, on the other hand, could be reduced by 50% or more and we’d probably still be spending more than any other country on earth in order to meet our supposed, but fictional, responsibility to protect the whole world from war. (Not doing so well at preventing war no matter how much we spend, anyhow, are we?)

  12. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/27/2010 - 10:12 pm.

    Why not have a competition?

    A prize for the first person who can use “populist” in an unequivocally complimentary sense.

  13. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 05/28/2010 - 06:22 pm.

    Has anyone told her that SHE is a Federal employee?

    In Feb. she told the St. Cloud Times that she was a Freshman, when in fact she is in the midst of her second term, so you have to wonder what she does and doesn’t know.

    But if the start freezing pay hers should definately be frozen: “According to the Library of Congress, Bachmann has succeeded in getting exactly zero bills passed so far this term.”

    Why should she be collecting a pay check?

  14. Submitted by Duke Powell on 05/29/2010 - 07:26 pm.

    Mr Wallbank repeats one of the biggest liberal lies:

    “Earlier this decade, a Republican president and Republican Congresses passed a massive tax cut (due to expire this year) that sent deficits soaring.”

    This statement simply isn’t true – Prove me wrong if you believe it.

    In addition – I am a public employee and it is my belief that the state legislature needs to enact a mandatory three year wage freeze on ALL public employees.

    That’s all as in ALL.

    Someone needs to do a fiscal analysis on how much that would save the state’s budget.

    If programs are so important, then this proposal needs serious consideration.

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