Why Boehner’s Blaming Bureaucrats

We’re moving ever closer to a double-dip. Of course, as I’ve said before, most Americans never got out of the first one.

In previous postings I’ve suggested ways to reverse course, including a “people’s tax cut” exempting the first $20K of income from payroll taxes and making up the revenue loss with a payroll tax on incomes over $250,000.

Yet Democrats seem frozen in the headlights of conservative supply-siders, blue-dog deficit hawks, and pollsters who say the public doesn’t trust anything government does.

As to Republicans, now comes John Boehner, capitalizing on this distrust by blaming the bad economy on government bureaucrats.

In an address billed as a major speech on economic policy, the House GOP leader yesterday (Tuesday) attributed our economic woes to the fact that “taxpayers are subsidizing the fattened salaries and pensions of federal bureaucrats who are out there right now making it harder to create private sector jobs.”

What?

It’s true workers at all levels of government now earn more than their private-sector counterparts. But that’s mainly because private-sector benefits have dropped precipitously over the last few years. Companies have replaced defined-benefit pensions with do-it-yourself 401(k)s, and have ratcheted up premiums, co-payments, and deductibles on employee health-care. Government workers’ benefits haven’t yet been sliced the diced these ways, but the cuts are coming.

The pay gap is also due to the fact that the typical public-sector job requires more education. According to the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, 48 percent of state and local employees have a college degree while only 23 percent of private-sector employees do.

Blaming government workers for this bad economy is absurd, regardless. The Great Recession continues because consumers can’t and won’t spend. They’re overwhelmed with credit-card debt, their mortgages are under water, their nest eggs have become chick peas, and they can’t afford health insurance.

Rather than help alleviate all this, Boehner and his Republican colleagues have been busily voting against extending unemployment insurance, against reorganizing mortgages under bankruptcy, against forcing credit card companies to stop charging exorbitant interest, and against giving Americans affordable health insurance.

As far as I can tell, all Republican want to do is to privatize Social Security, extend the Bush tax cuts to the richest 3 percent of Americans, and deregulate. But none of this seems particularly relevant to the task at hand.

Privatizing Social Security would put retirees entirely at the mercy of the Wall Street casino.

Extending the Bush tax cuts to the richest 3 percent wouldn’t stimulate demand because the very rich save rather than spend most of their extra cash.

And if anything we need more rather than less regulation. Just consider BP’s oil spill, Massey’s mine cave-in, DeCoster’s rotten eggs, Goldman Sach’s predations, and Wellpoint’s double-digit insurance premium increases.

Boehner delivered his speech at the City Club of Cleveland, a safe distance from those government employees he says are on the make. But of course Boehner is a federal employee. He gets $193,400 a year along with generous retirement benefits. In fact, he has among the fattest salaries and pensions in Washington.

About Robert Reich 545 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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