Crushing Workers Won’t Solve Deficits

Rep. Jim McDermott: Represents the 7th Congressional , District of Washington (Seattle) in the U.S. House – Posted: March 9, 2011 02:24 PM


While millions of ordinary Americans have been struggling to cope with the harsh economic realities of the last two years, Republican elected officials have focused their attention on ways to take political advantage of widespread hardship. Republicans have decided that ongoing economic turmoil offers a perfect opportunity to go after their political opponents.

So, every Democratic proposal is a “job-killing” bill — even a measure to assure continuing medical treatment to 9/11 first responders was somehow a job killer. Our economy’s free fall was the result of “unreasonably high taxes” — never mind the high-flying Wall Street speculators who gambled with our housing market and lost. And, now, when state and local governments are trying desperately to rebuild their crumbling budgets, the Republican Party is ready to assign blame for the catastrophe: unions.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie got the ball rolling by blaming that state’s budget shortfalls on overpaid state employees and their underfunded pensions. Let’s not forget that New Jersey has failed to make 13 of its last 17 scheduled payments to its pension trust fund, and the good Governor has missed every payment since taking office. Governor Christie is robbing the public employees’ bank account and then blaming those employees for not keeping enough in the safe.

Then, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin stepped up, insisting that Wisconsin’s budget deficit was caused by extravagant public employee compensation packages, driven by rapacious and irresponsible unions. But we know that public employee unions are not the cause of Wisconsin’s deficits. Compared to the rest of the country, Wisconsin provides its public employees only average salaries and benefits — its state employees make roughly 5% less than its private sector workers. And the pension system that Governor Walker says will sink the state? It’s very healthy and poses no looming threat to the state’s solvency.

But Wisconsin does have a deficit and, in a genuine effort to help overcome that shortfall, Wisconsin’s public employee unions agreed to Governor Walker’s proposed wage and benefit reductions. Not good enough for Governor Walker: he demanded that Wisconsin’s public employee unions relinquish their decades-old collective bargaining rights. Governor Walker’s goal is not to eliminate Wisconsin’s deficit; it is to eliminate Wisconsin’s public employee unions.