(1) Yes, it's window dressing. Heading into tomorrow's pow-wow with newly empowered GOP leaders, the president is posing as a budget-cutting fiscal hawk, when he's really a budget-busting fiscal hog.
(2) Yes, $5 Billion is a drop in the deficit bucket, as illustrated by Philip Klein's helpful chart:
(3) And yes, federal employees' salaries are already too high, so it's a fair criticism that freezing bloated wages is virtually meaningless.
With those caveats in place, I still say "bravo" to the move. Just as Republicans' adoption of an earmarks moratorium was a small -- but symbolic -- step in the right direction, so too is this. Whether all $28 Billion in promised savings ever materializes is an open question (and there is ample cause for skepticism), but even superficial budget trimming is still budget trimming. It's certainly preferable to the alternative, no?
Some conservative House Republicans are cautiously applauding the president's decision, while calling it "just a start" -- which succinctly summarizes my view. TPM also reminds us that Democrats pilloried this very idea over the summer...when it was being advanced by Republicans:
On the Senate floor in June, now-retired Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE) whacked a Republican amendment that would have frozen federal pay as an "assault" against "those who choose to serve."
"Now is not the time to talk about laying off federal workers, or freezing their pay," he said.
The same week, Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) called the GOP proposal "arbitrary and restrictive."
The Kos kids, meanwhile, are in high dudgeon over Obama's "gimmicky" capitulation to Republicans. A good observation from a DKos front page rant:
President Gimmick doesn't offer up plans designed to do anything, he only offers up plans designed to give him zingers for his 2012 debates.
On this narrow point, the author hits pay dirt. Considering Obama's obsession with campaigning, its fairly obvious that his partial motive here is to arm himself with a few darts to shoot back at conservative critics in the future. He'll no doubt point to this gesture as "evidence" that he's not a traditional tax-and-spend liberal when, in fact, he's worse (see caveat #1). Nonetheless, it's the right thing to do as a start, and it's incumbent upon conservatives to explain why it's not nearly enough, and to advance and support steps that deal with the national debt in a more serious and comprehensive way moving forward.