Dems Split On Obama Plan To Freeze Federal Pay

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November 29, 2010 3:40 p.m.

Congressional Democrats are divided once again over an olive branch President Obama extended to the GOP. Progressive members are openly questioning his proposal to freeze federal pay through at least 2012, while their conservative counterparts support the plan, aligning themselves with Republican members who are already pressing Obama to move further to the right.

“[I]t would have been far preferable for the White House to have included this as part of a comprehensive proposal, instead of singling out the hard working men and women of the federal workforce,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) in a statement to reporters this evening. “By focusing exclusively on federal employees, the Administration runs the risk of reinforcing the myth, pushed by some for politically convenient but cynical reasons, that America suffers from a federal government comprised of unproductive and overpaid civil servants. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Van Hollen’s the incoming ranking member of the Budget Committee, but also represents a large number of federal employees. That said, he’s not alone.“I hope it is not just federal workers who bear the burden and bear the brunt of expenditure cuts, because we’re at war, we have a huge debt and deficit, and there’s no evidence that [there’s] self-sacrifice, or mutual commitment to have everybody address these issues,” retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) told TPM after series of Senate votes tonight. “All of it has to be done, so I understand why the president said what he said [but] it’s interesting to me the juxtaposition of saying ‘We must extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and yet we can’t afford to extend unemployment benefits to those who are out of luck and out of jobs.”

By contrast, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is all for it.

“I wholeheartedly support it,” Nelson said. “In our office we froze salaries last year. We’ll do it again this year. The Senate’s gonna do it for a third year I’m sure. With many Americans suffering and not having jobs, worried about losing their jobs, we all have to share the sacrifice.”

That doesn’t extend to the realm of taxation, where Nelson supports extending all the Bush tax cuts, at least until the economy recovers. By the same token, I asked if he’d support a year-long, unpaid for extension of unemployment benefits.

“That’s spending. And I have a problem doing that. We’ll have to look at whatever it is they’re proposing,” Nelson said. “I understand and it sounds very challenging to say that you’re not going to extend unemployment benefits to people who are unemployed. But there’s a point in time when you have to ask the question: Can you continue to do it indefinitely, and also at what cost?”

Just tonight, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus introduced legislation to extend eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits by one year — a starting point for negotiations this week over how long to extend the benefits, and whether and how to pay for them.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), as chairman of the Government Affairs Committee, also supports Obama’s plan. “Federal employees, including members of Congress and our staffs, have to sacrifice as part of an urgent need to curtail the cost of the federal government and reduce the national debt to help get us out of these tough economic times,” he said in a statement. “I hope that this sacrifice by federal employees will be part of a comprehensive and successful national effort to get our fiscal house in order and that an improved economy will yield a brighter national jobs picture in which all workers, including federal employees, can benefit.”

If Obama really wants this to happen, it’ll be the GOP and a coalition of Democrats on Capitol Hill who make it happen.

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