In a call that may well tip the scales in favor of serious cuts to the entire defense budget, senior House Democrat Steny Hoyer called today for active duty troops to take a pay freeze, just as their civilian counterparts will.
Hoyer, the outgoing Majority Leader, offered an olive branch to those who might oppose the whole idea of a pay freeze for those who wear the uniform. He said he would exempt those deployed to combat zones.
"Millions of Americans are out of work, and many are tightening their belts; Federal employees must be no different," Hoyer said in a statement posted on the majorityleader.gov website. "It would have produced significantly more savings had that sacrifice been shared between Federal civilian and military personnel -- with a strong exception for the members of our military and civilian employees risking their lives on our behalf in Afghanistan, Iraq, and anywhere else they are serving in harm's way."
Hoyer, whose district contains many federal employees, also argued that broadening the freeze to include active duty military was a matter of equity. "It would have also added an element of fairness: there has been parity between civilian and military pay raises for 22 of the past 28 years in which raises were authorized, and hundreds of thousands of Federal civilian employees work alongside military employees in the Department of Defense and other agencies" he said. "In fact, the first American casualty in Afghanistan was a CIA agent--a federal civilian employee.
Hoyer, who stands to the right of his boss House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on many policy matters, could well swing many Democrats behind his move. Given the GOP's control of the House, his effort faces much greater uncertainty in the institution. Rep. Buck McKeon, incoming chairman of the House Armed Services, has pledged to give troops whatever support they need to get the jobs done in Afghanistan and Iraq. That would probably translate into opposition to any pay freeze, but Tea Party Republicans -- and the presidential deficit commission, which reports out tomorrow -- may well push hard for something symbolic like this, that also comes with a pretty hefty return.
President Obama announced a pay freeze for all civilian federal workers yesterday: "These are also times where all of us are called on to make some sacrifices. And I'm asking civil servants to do what they always do and play their part." That is logic that could easily be extended to troops serving at home or at some of the more comfortable foreign bases. The civilian freeze would, the White House estimates, save $2 billion for the 2011 fiscal year, $28 billion over the next five years and more than $60 billion over the next 10 years. No comparable numbers for a military freeze yet.