President Obama on Tuesday directed federal agencies to freeze bonuses and other discretionary salary items for political appointees, citing the struggling economy. 

In a memo to senior officials, Obama said the move is part of his commitment to keep the government spending taxpayer dollars "wisely and carefully" while cutting costs where possible. 

"I appreciate the hard work of our federal workforce, and understand how important these payments can be to many workers and their families," the president wrote. "Yet like households and businesses across the country, we need to make tough choices about how to spend our funds."

The announcement comes as Republicans and Democrats have sharpened their rhetoric on federal spending and deficits ahead of the midterm elections. 

Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) published a report Tuesday detailing what they say are wasteful spending projects funded by the $787 billion federal stimulus act, Obama's first signature piece of legislation. 

The memorandum does not estimate how much money the move would save. 

The bonus freeze encompasses "cash awards, quality step increases, bonuses, and similar discretionary payments or salary adjustments to any politically appointed federal employee" beginning immediately and lasting through the end of fiscal year 2011. 

Obama also noted that he proposed in his fiscal year 2011 budget a salary freeze for certain senior political appointees throughout the government.