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.”