Federal pay freeze

Two key U.S. senators last week endorsed extending a federal pay freeze for a third year. It's the least that should be done, given the nation's fiscal realities.

In addition to continuing the pay freeze -- which would save about $32 billion -- Sens. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, said no workers should be spared from any cuts recommended by the congressional supercommittee currently looking for budget savings.

"All Americans, including those of us in the public sector, must help get our country out of the hole we are in," the two wrote to the supercommittee, which had asked congressional committees to submit ideas for spending restraint.

Sen. Lieberman chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which oversees the federal work force. Sen. Collins is the ranking Republican.

Other changes the two backed include:

-- Requiring federal workers to contribute an additional 1.2 percent of their salaries toward retirement benefits, saving $21 billion over the next decade.

-- Basing a worker's retirement benefits on the highest five years of pay, rather than three years.

These are common-sense proposals that better reflect the reality of the struggling private sector, where the money that pays federal personnel costs is generated.

But the supercommittee should go even further.

The current two-year pay freeze applies only to cost-of-living adjustments. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers living with a pay "freeze" will still make more next year than this year thanks to so-called step raises, which remain in effect. Not only should the supercommittee support extending the pay freeze for a third year, it should expand the freeze to include step increases.