New Castle News

Closer Look

January 15, 2013

Our Opinion: Federal salaries go up as Congress muddles

NEW CASTLE — Amid the end-of-year squabbling over the fiscal cliff, Washington made a move you might have missed.

It all began when President Obama issued an executive order Dec. 27 that lifted a freeze on federal pay.

The freeze not only impacted federal civilian employees and top administration officials, it also included members of Congress. (It did not give Obama a pay hike, but did grant one to Vice President Joe Biden.)

Percentage wise, the boost was not massive, about 0.5 percent. For the average lawmaker, this move would have increased their pay by about $900, to $174,900.

Now, word of a pay raise for Congress amid the fumbling and bumbling it has produced in recent years was sure to ignite public outrage. And it would seem that most lawmakers are still able to grasp the absurdity of their receiving more money when they were chalking up such poor performances.

So when it came time to vote on fiscal cliff matters (or at least some of them), the House and Senate agreed to block their own pay raises. The Republican-controlled House went a step further, approving a bill — with significant Democratic support — to halt pay increases to most federal workers.

Now, it should be noted that because of the nation’s recession and slow recovery from it, lawmakers have abstained from raises since 2009. And federal employee wages have been frozen since 2010.

But in terms of Congress, the question legitimately should be asked: Don’t lawmakers deserve a pay cut, rather than a mere freeze?

And while we can be sympathetic to the plight of federal employees who have gone years without pay boosts, the same can be said of many folks in the private sector — assuming they were able to keep their jobs. In the midst of massive federal deficits, even modest increases in pay rates draw scrutiny. With his executive order, the president failed to show disciplined restraint.

If federal employees are unhappy with stagnant pay, then perhaps they should consider adding their voices to demands that Washington get its fiscal act together. The national debt should be their concern as well.

As for the House’s move to block the pay raise for federal employees, it probably won’t go anywhere. Not only are the Senate and Obama unlikely to agree, but Congress has set itself up for constant fiscal battles this year over everything from automatic budget cuts to the federal debt ceiling. The pay issue will be lost in the shuffle.

Yet it shouldn’t be. Congress ought to be sufficiently disciplined to deal with these matters in a responsible manner. Instead, lawmakers point fingers, put on shows and pretend it’s not their fault.

It is their fault.

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