The two-year freeze on federal civilian pay that President Obama proposed on Monday may actually reduce federal expenditures by the $2 Billion in the rest of fiscal year 2011 that he claims (0.2% of the projected $980 Billion budget deficit. The actual budget deficit is likely to be much higher.) But this small savings may end up losing him the 13 electoral votes that Virginia is expected to have in 2012, proving just as politically costly any attempt to restrain the entitlement spending he has fought so hard to increase. Spending on Medicare and Social Security alone, collectively termed the third rail of politics, is scheduled to total $1.2 Trillion in 2011.
The freeze will be strongly felt in the suburban counties around Washington, the home of many affected employees and one of Obama’s main power bases in Virginia. Fairfax and Arlington counties alone provided him with almost 400,000 of the 2 million votes he received in the Commonwealth in 2008. Obama won Virginia by 235,000 votes.
Northern Virginia is the most populous area in both the Washington Metropolitan Area and the Commonwealth. The Washington area overall is home to about 330,000 federal employees and their families. Some of them may remember that in 2009 Congress and the Administration found $70 billion for an effort to create “green jobs.” Wages paid to the non-imaginary workforce of the federal government are apparently not assumed to create economic activity.
An example of the region’s shifting loyalties is Virginia’s 11th Congressional district, which has only recently become used to electing Democrats. In 2008 it went for Obama with 57% of the vote and elected Gerry Connolly over Keith Fimian by a margin of 55% to 43%. In the 2010 rematch, Connolly beat Fimian by only 981 votes.
Just as awkward as the fact of Obama’s unrequited concession to federal pay critics is the way in which it is implemented. Even the conservative Heritage Foundation has advocated that the government move toward a pay-for-performance system and reject brute-force approaches to pay. Across-the-board dictats, the working world’s equivalent of the education system’s much-mocked zero-tolerance policies, are a favorite tool of bad managers. More than just reducing incentives, they actively nullify them, valuing productive employees the same as under-performing ones. The result is a dangerously unequal drop in morale in the name of one-size-fits-none.
When (if?) local voters go to the polls in 2012 before heading to work for their 2010 pay they may decide that some cutbacks at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are no bad thing.