President Obama's call for a two-year pay freeze for 2 million federal employees is an unpleasant but necessary move.
A great many private sector employees, as well as local and state government workers, have seen their wages frozen in the midst of the Great Recession. Raises have been postponed to balance budgets and to reduce or eliminate layoffs.
The federal government isn't as constrained. It has the ability to spend more than it takes in -- it borrows to pay the bills.
But as more and more of us feel the pain of the lousy economy, we've become increasingly concerned about deficit spending and the growing national debt.
"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," Obama said.
The pay freeze would apply to all civilian federal employees, including those working at the Department of Defense, but would not affect military personnel. The freeze is expected to save more than $5 billion over two years.
These savings, while significant, are a speck in relation to the nation's $1 trillion-plus budget deficit. Nevertheless, the gesture is important. It sends the message to citizens -- to voters -- that the government is making the same sort of sacrifices they have been forced to make.
In order for the pay freeze to take effect, Congress must take action. The Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate would be wise to follow Obama's lead.
This move is not being taken lightly by Obama or the members of Congress.
"This is not just a line item on a federal ledger," Obama said. "These are people's lives."
In addition, freezing wages for 2 million workers will result in less consumer spending. That's not going to help, at least in the short term, efforts to revive the economy.
In the long run, however, this shared sacrifice will make the nation stronger.
Obama and bipartisan congressional leaders meet today at the White House for the first time since the election. It won't be easy, particularly for Obama's fellow Democrats, to agree to the pay freeze, but it must be done to show the federal government is serious about getting spending under control.