While he may not say it, the message is clear: President Obama’s proposed two-year freeze on federal wages is a response to this month’s midterm election, in which his party took a beating in the polls.

Voters have expressed a lack of confidence with the direction of the country and the economy, concern about out-of-control spending and a distaste for winner-take-all party politics in Washington.

In this one proposal, Obama has moved to address a major concern while facing the ire of one of his core constituency groups in federal employee unions. At the same time, he has adopted an idea championed by Republican lawmakers, signaling a willingness to work with them as full partners.

If this is the only step and not just the first one, it won’t be nearly enough. The freeze would save $5 billion over two years, which would make hardly a dent in the $14 trillion national debt.

For it to take effect next year, the freeze would have to be approved by the current Congress, which includes Democratic members who lost their seats on Election Day, in some cases because they were associated with administration policies voters found to be too liberal. Those members may wish that they had been able to have a vote like this before the election instead of after it.

It will also be added to an overfull agenda for a lame duck session that will be dominated by tax issues that have to be resolved before the end of the year. But none of that should cloud the fact that this is a significant offer of compromise that should be taken seriously.

The freeze may be a symbolic gesture, but like the earmark moratorium proposed by the Republican leadership, it is a symbol that the Congress is serious about controling spending. Just because it is only a symbol of progress is not a reason to reject it.

Some will call this overtly political, and attribute Obama’s interest in capping federal wages to his desire to be re-elected in 2012. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as good governance is the justification of his campaign.

proposing this wage freeze, Obama is saying that he heard the voters’ rebuke and he is willing to change course. To the extent that his partners in Congress – both Democrats and Republicans – got the same message, we can look forward to where this promising gesture will lead.