'The well is dry'

Speaking of government compensation, the president this week extended a two-year federal pay freeze until at least April.

In a letter to congressional leadership, President Obama said he took the step because government "must maintain efforts to keep our nation on a sustainable fiscal course."


Apoplectic union leaders, though, don't see it that way.

"The well is dry, Mr. President," J. David Cox Sr., the newly elected president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told The Washington Post. "Federal employees cannot afford another four months or even another day of frozen wages."

He called Mr. Obama's decision "unconscionable."

It's worth noting that this "freeze" still allows many federal workers to collect pay raises. Although so-called "step" levels remain the same, employees can earn bigger paychecks through promotion, performance or by advancing in pay grade.

That's a far cry from what's available to many workers in the battered private sector, where the job security and benefits afforded federal employees are unheard of.

The pay freeze is no panacea to the nation's fiscal distress. Two years of relatively flat compensation for federal workers will save only $60 billion - a drop in the bucket for a country running annual budget deficits of more than $1 trillion. But the symbolism has value.

Mr. Cox is correct about one thing: The well is indeed dry. Many of those who must foot the bill for the federal workforce have been ravaged by layoffs or actual pay cuts - they can't be leaned on to fund higher and higher pay for the public sector.

This issue will be revisited again after the election. But at this point, the president has made the correct call.