While freezing the pay of federal workers is a good first step toward reducing the deficit, both the timing of the president's announcement and the fact that he had previously opposed this move calls into question Obama's motives.
This is especially significant when you consider the fact that he made this announcement less than 24 hours before meeting Republicans on the Hill:
Mr. Obama expressed optimism that the meeting with legislators would be a productive and fresh beginning. "My hope is starting today, we can begin a bipartisan conversation about our future," he said. "Everybody's going to have to cooperate. We can't afford to fall back onto the same old ideologies or the same stale sound bites."
The president's proposed pay freeze would wipe out plans for a 1.4 percent across-the-board raise in 2011 for 2.1 million federal civilian employees, including those working at the Defense Department. But the freeze would not affect the nation's uniformed military personnel. It would also mean no raise in 2012 for civilian employees.
The pay freeze will save $2 billion in the current fiscal year that ends in September 2011, $28 billion over five years and more than $60 billion over 10 years, according to Jeffrey Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and the government's chief performance officer. That represents just a tiny dent in a $1.3 trillion annual deficit but it offers a symbolic gesture toward public anger over unemployment, the anemic economic recovery and rising national debt.
Gimmicks and "signals" are the last refuge of scoundrel presidents. Beaten to a pulp in the mid term elections, Obama is seeking to deflect anger away from him. It won't work. Nor will it soften up GOP lawmakers who will no doubt let the president have it during their meeting on Tuesday.
What's scary is that he might actually believe that people will think he's an economic genius for taking this step. Obama is so cocooned right now that it is hard to tell just what kind of hold he has on reality. It should be an interesting session.