Likely House majority leader calls for hiring freeze

The Republicans surged to power this past election with rhetoric about changing the way Washington is run and reducing the federal budget. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., the presumed House majority leader, says he has a plan to tackle both of these issues with a single move: slash the federal bureaucracy.

"We could do that and save $35 billion if we began to put hiring changes in place, and begin to rein in the government." Cantor said Wednesday on Imus in the Morning. He did not offer specifics.

A new report from USA Today found that the number of federal workers who earn more than $150,000 has risen tenfold in the past five years and has doubled since President Obama took office in 2009. The report found that federal workers earning $150,000 or more make up 3.9 percent of the workforce, compared to 0.4 percent in 2005.

The annual increase of pay and benefits for federal workers is about 3 percent higher than inflation, while the increase for private workers is .8 percent. This difference has led some members of Congress to call for an immediate freeze in federal salaries, a move that will likely resonate well with the public, given the depths of the current recession.

The first challenge could come during next week's lame-duck session, when Republicans will have the chance to try and strike down the 1.4-percent-across-the-board pay raise for 2.1 million federal workers. But many Republicans do not want to stop there.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who will head the panel overseeing federal pay, told USA Today that a pay freeze should only be the first step, and that if he has his way there would be a 10-percent reduction in pay.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley disagrees, telling the paper the proposed raise "is a modest amount and should be implemented" to try and keep pace with the salaries of the private sector.

While federal pay increases will continue to be the focus of GOP ire, some critics discount the comparisons between federal and private-sector wages. After an August study from USA Today found that federal workers were earning twice as much as their private-sector counterparts, the group Media Matters countered that many public-sector jobs require a higher level of education, and it is this education gap that results in the wage disparity. They also pointed out that there are just more white-collar jobs in the public sector than in the private sector.

"The bottom line is: When education and age are held constant, the entire difference in average pay between the federal and private sectors disappears," former White House Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag wrote in a post at Whitehouse.gov in March.

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