This morning the President welcomed everybody back from the Thanksgiving break, and said he was looking forward to tomorrow's bipartisan meeting with Congressional leaders, making clear that "it’s time to get back to work." Before talking about the news of the day, namely his call for cutting the deficit by freezing Federal employee pay, the President spoke a little bit about how concerns about the economy and the deficit relate:
Now, there’s no doubt that if we want to bring down our deficits, it’s critical to keep growing our economy. More importantly, there’s still a lot of pain out there, and we can’t afford to take any steps that might derail our recovery or our efforts to put Americans back to work and to make Main Street whole again. So we can’t put the brakes on too quickly. And I’m going to be interested in hearing ideas from my Republican colleagues, as well as Democrats, about how we continue to grow the economy and how we put people back to work.
The President went through his various efforts to scrape tens of billions in saving out of the budget, from the line-by-line review, to aggressively going after improper government payments, to selling off $8 billion of unneeded federal land and buildings, to proposing a three-year freeze on all non-security discretionary spending -- "a step that would bring that spending to its lowest level as a share of the economy in 50 years."
The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require broad sacrifice. And that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government.
After all, small businesses and families are tightening their belts. Their government should, too. And that’s why, on my first day as President, I froze all pay for my senior staff. This year I’ve proposed extending that freeze for senior political appointees throughout the government and eliminating bonuses for all political appointees.
And today I’m proposing a two-year pay freeze for all civilian federal workers. This would save $2 billion over the rest of this fiscal year and $28 billion in cumulative savings over the next five years. And I want to be clear: This freeze does not apply to the men and women of our Armed Forces, who along with their families continue to bear enormous burdens with our nation at war.
I did not reach this decision easily. This is not just a line item on a federal ledger. These are people’s lives. They’re doctors and nurses who care for our veterans; scientists who search for better treatments and cures; men and women who care for our national parks and secure our borders and our skies; Americans who see that the Social Security checks get out on time, who make sure that scholarships comes through, who devote themselves to our safety. They’re patriots who love their country and often make many sacrifices to serve their country.
In these challenging times, we want the best and brightest to join and make a difference. But 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’ve always done -- play their part.
Going forward, we’re going to have to make some additional very tough decisions that this town has put off for a very long time. And that’s what this upcoming week is really about. My hope is that, starting today, we can begin a bipartisan conversation about our future, because we face challenges that will require the cooperation of Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Everybody is going to have to cooperate. We can’t afford to fall back onto the same old ideologies or the same stale sound bites. We’re going to have to budge on some deeply held positions and compromise for the good of the country. We’re going to have to set aside the politics of the moment to make progress for the long term. And as I’ve often said, we’re going to have to think not just about the next election, but about the next generation, because if there’s anything the American people said this month, it’s that they want their leaders to have one single focus: making sure their work is rewarded so that the American Dream remains within their reach. It would be unwise to assume they prefer one way of thinking over another. That wasn’t the lesson that I took when I entered into office, and it’s not the lesson today.