The GOP's First Target Should Be Government Worker Salary and Benefits

America has woken up to the fact that much of our fiscal crisis at the state and federal levels has been caused by the rich salary, benefit, and pension packages of government workers. Chris Christie, Republican Governor of New Jersey, has become a YouTube sensation by clearly articulating the problem. So does this USA Today article:

The number of federal workers earning $150,000 or more a year has soared tenfold in the past five years and doubled since President Obama took office, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

The fast-growing pay of federal employees has captured the attention of fiscally conservative Republicans who won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in last week's elections. Already, some lawmakers are planning to use the lame-duck session that starts Monday to challenge the president's plan to give a 1.4% across-the-board pay raise to 2.1 million federal workers.

Federal workers earning $150,000 or more make up 3.9% of the workforce, up from 0.4% in 2005. Since 2000, federal pay and benefits have increased 3% annually above inflation compared with 0.8% for private workers

Compounding the fiscal time bomb (a nuclear one at that) is the fact that the government work force has also grown tremendously over the years.

There has been a long-running vicious cycle playing out over the years. Politicians (mostly, but not exclusively, Democrats) have been signing generous agreements with government workers and their unions. In return, the government workers provide a solid voting block, and the public employee unions can use their enlarged dues to funnel money to Democratic campaigns. There was a reason -- beyond their leftist ideological beliefs and animus towards businesses -- that both Barack and Michelle Obama counseled people to go to work for the government. Those government workers become a special interest group in the pockets of Pelosi and company.

Bolstering the number of people on the government payroll brings us one step closer to the type of European socialism that seems to be on the agenda of Barack Obama. (See Stanley Kurtz's new book Radical-in-Chief if you still harbor skepticism as to the fact that Barack Obama is a closet socialist.)

Indeed, government workers, as Morton Zuckerman (U.S. News Editor in Chief) writes, have become "the new privileged class."

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) was the single biggest independent group spending money during the recent election cycle, blowing past the Chamber of Commerce and every Republican-leaning group. The union's president happily bragged that they were spending big -- $87.5 million just in this cycle -- and was "damn happy it's big." They weren't the only ones happy. Democrats received virtually all of the money (originally our money, by the way).

A huge chunk of the so-called stimulus money went not to shovel-ready projects (that we now know Barack Obama and other Democrats knew did not exist -- they were just useful props), but to save or create government jobs and to ensure that continued money was channeled into government workers' hands. Much of the money went to police, firemen, teachers, and other government workers. Question: does this help our balance of payments?

The decision-makers who grant lavish packages to government workers have no reason to exercise restraint,  and no one is looking out for the taxpayers (though Obama has hired a slew of new IRS agents to look at us). The problem is that no one cares about Other People's Money.

Our tax dollars are just one big slush fund to lube the Democratic election campaigns in a seemingly endless recycling campaign: dollars extracted from us get sucked up to Washington (one of the few boom towns in America, where average salaries blow away most other cities in America) and then are showered onto government workers whose salaries already dwarf salaries in the private sector for comparable jobs.

Democrats know a good deal when they see one. While they still exercised almost unfettered control of Congress, they pushed for an emergency $23-billion "stimulus" bill for teachers. This was done when their political polling numbers were in decline -- as was the amount that previously friendly business donors were willing to cough up. After all, the Democrats turned on business leaders and delivered some tongue-lashings to Wall Street donors who had been quite generous over the years to Democrats. How to gin up more union campaign help? Pass the extra stimulus bill to channel more money to government workers and, via their mandatory dues to the unions, into campaign coffers of the unions, who then recycled that money back into helping to elect Democrats.

A perpetual money-machine -- until the music stopped. And it stopped because citizens saw what was going on in Greece, and then they saw our future. We saw the superstar Chris Christie stare down the unions and appeal to the taxpayers. We saw it as reports filtered out that politicians had been cooking the books to paper over pension problems. We saw it as think-tanks and others finally started informing us of the black hole sucking away our dollars and our futures.

Even government workers became concerned that the truth was leaking out and participated in a Government Doesn't Suck march as part of Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. Government may not suck, and there are fine workers doing great work (my favorite, besides our military, are Inspectors General, our Unsung Heroes). But enough is enough.

Even Barack Obama has called for shared sacrifice, and it might be time to rein in Leviathan.

We are not quite at that breaking point yet -- and thankfully, the people have risen up to restore fiscal sanity to America. The one focus that the various Tea Parties shared was a desire to stop our orgy of spending. Fortunately, at least some Republicans have heard the message.

Joe Davidson of the Washington Post has posted a succinct summary of various plans Republicans are going to be bringing to Washington:

-- Federal employees would be told to take two weeks off without pay, under a plan by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), who says it will save $5.5 billion. Members of Congress also would be called to sacrifice by taking a 10-percent pay cut.

-- Federal raises and bonuses would be frozen for one year, and the number of employees would be capped, under legislation sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

-- The growth in the federal workforce would be cut by limiting hires to one for every two retirees, under a measure proposed by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.). Her bill excludes the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, which are among the government's largest employers.

-- The federal workforce, with exceptions for security-related agencies, would shrink through attrition to February 2009 levels under legislation offered by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

-- The plan to fire federal employees who fall behind in their taxes is being pushed by Coburn and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

-- The number of political appointees would drop to 2,000 from about 3,500 under a plan pushed by McCain and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who was defeated on Tuesday.

-- Legislation sponsored by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) that would have eliminated the proposed 1.4 percent pay raise for federal employees was defeated in the House this year, but next year may be a different story.

Not all of these measures will pass, and we can never be sure that Republican politicians have gotten the religion. Will some of them revert to form -- as the current brouhaha over pledges to end earmarks seems to indicate? Sure.

Will the Tea Party be on the case? You betcha, we will be.

Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.
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