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Graph comparing federal to private sector pay and benefits at various levels of education.
Federal workers whose pay has been frozen for two years should have another nine months of freeze, 218 House Republicans and 43 House Democrats voted Friday morning. The House bill's intent is to block an executive order by President Obama giving federal workers a 0.5 percent cost of living raise. It's unclear whether the Senate will take up the measure, but this marks another move by Republicans to push cuts to working people as the answer to every economic question.

The bill also puts Republican logic on display. They're advertising it as saving $11 billion, but that's $11 billion over 10 years, and we're talking about a nine-month bill. And can you imagine what the competence level of the federal employees left after 10 years of pay freeze would look like, if Republicans did extend it that far?

The argument for the bill, besides of course that workers should always be cut to spare oil companies and hedge fund billionaires from paying a little more, is that federal workers make more than private sector workers. Except that that's not exactly true. Federal workers with a high school diploma earn more and get better benefits than private sector workers with the same education. Federal workers with a bachelors degree earn about the same amount of money as private sector workers with a bachelors degree, but get slightly better benefits. But for workers with a doctorate or professional degree? Federal workers and private sector workers get about the same benefits, but the private sector workers earn more money.

So basically Republicans are saying two things. One is that the federal government should participate in the race to the bottom when it comes to less-educated workers and should pay Walmart-type wages to groundskeepers and custodians. The other is that we should pretend that part of the reason it looks like the federal government pays people more is that it employs so many highly educated, highly experienced engineers and lawyers and statisticians to watch over our public health, our environment, our system of justice, our workplace safety. Republicans would be happy if federal work stopped being a viable, if not highly lucrative, living for many of those experienced, educated guardians of the common good, weakening the government's ability to function and lending legitimacy to Republican arguments that government doesn't work anyway.

Adding nine months to a two-year pay freeze is on the one hand small ball. The savings are small and even the cost to workers of that nine months isn't enormous. But on the other hand it's a big statement about the Republican vision of how the American government and economy should function (or fail).

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 09:36 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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