President Barack Obama announced a proposal Monday to freeze pay for federal workers over the next two years, one of several "very tough decisions" coming from the administration as it attempts to rein in government spending and address the looming federal deficit.
"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 sacrifices," Obama said in a statement at the White House. "And I'm asking civil servants to do what they have always done. Play their part."
The freeze, which requires congressional approval, applies to civilian federal employees -- including non-military personel serving at the Department of Defense. The White House says the move will save $2 billion during the rest of the current fiscal year and $28 billion over the next five years.
Obama noted the difficulty of the decision in his remarks Monday, saying "this is not just a line-item on a federal ledger. These are people's lives."
But solving the problem of the mounting deficit will require many Americans to tighten their belts, he added. "The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice, and that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government."
There are just under 2.7 million civilian employees of the executive branch, per the Washington Post. That's about 8.4 federal workers per 1,000 American citizens.
A Washington Post poll in October found that 52 percent of Americans believe federal workers are overpaid. About half of respondents said they believe federal employees work "less hard" than their peers in the private sector.
In a statement, Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland -- who represents a district rich with government workers -- acknowledged that "federal employees must be no different" than other Americans who are making sacrifices during difficult economic times. But Hoyer said that military personnel -- except for those "serving in harm's way" in places like Afghanistan and Iraq -- should also be subject to a pay freeze.
A similar proposal to limit the federal workforce was named by House Republicans in their "Pledge to America" released before the midterm elections. The authors of that document suggested imposing a "net hiring freeze on non-security federal employees" that would "ensure that the public sector no longer grows at the expense of the private sector."
At the beginning of his remarks Monday, Obama joked about the cut lip he received over the Thanksgiving weekend while playing basketball. Obama said that he had received a “clean bill of health” from doctors after receiving 12 stitches.