Payroll freeze

On Wednesday, USA Today continued its fine coverage of the federal payroll, noting that salaries and benefits for the country's 2.1 million federal workers have exploded over the past decade, even as private-sector wages have stagnated and benefits have been reduced or eliminated.

The newspaper's ongoing investigation into federal employee compensation this week revealed the number of U.S. government workers earning at least $150,000 per year has grown tenfold over the past five years, and doubled since President Obama took office.

The newspaper had previously found that federal compensation has grown 36.9 percent since 2000 after adjusting for inflation, compared with 8.8 percent growth for private-sector workers. Federal employees' average compensation now more than doubles what the typical private-sector worker receives in wages and benefits.

And federal workers are in line to get a 1.4 percent across-the-board pay raise next year -- on top of seniority based pay raises.

Some lawmakers want to use the lame-duck session, which begins Monday, to cancel that pay raise, which would save a couple of billion dollars in the short term. That such a modest proposal is considered unthinkable in some circles highlights the economic disconnect between the capital and the rest of the country.

Also this week, the president's deficit commission proposed a three-year pay freeze for most federal employees -- not all -- and an eventual 10 percent reduction in the federal work force. The net savings to taxpayers would be small, but symbolic of a willingness to address the problem.

Attacking the budget deficit and national debt is politically challenging enough, but if lawmakers won't even try to stop the growth of the federal payroll, let alone scale it back, then their promises of reduced spending deserve to be mocked.