The House on Friday passed legislation to preserve, for an additional year, a pay freeze for non-military federal workers. The freeze has been in effect for the past three years. The action was necessary because President Obama recently announced that he would move, through executive action, to boost federal pay in March. The pay freeze bill attracted the votes of more than 40 Democrats.
Freezing the pay of federal workers has only a modest impact on the deficit, saving around $10 billion a year. In an economy with high-levels of long-term unemployment and stagnant wage growth, however, it is an important symbolic measure. Many private sector workers have been living with their own pay freeze the past several years, albeit one mandated by economic realities rather than Congressional action.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), lead sponsor of the measure, argued in debate that it was incumbent on the government to trim costs wherever it could. “It is a small price to pay,” he argued, “consistent with the President’s previous pay freeze, to hold pay increases of federal employees for one more year.”
The pay freeze addresses a broader question beyond the deficit, however. Obama’s move to increase federal pay through executive action is just the latest example of him going around Congress to pursue his ends. The Constitution gives Congress, and specifically the House, control over the nation’s purse-strings. Obama’s move would assert even greater Executive Branch control over government spending.
The White House opposed the House bill, but didn’t issue a veto threat. The Senate, after all, is unlikely to consider the House-passed pay freeze. The Republicans next chance to freeze federal pay is in the coming debate over a continuing resolution to fund the government through the rest of the year.
Friday’s action was just another act in the long-running budget docu-drama playing out in DC.