The Congressional Supercommittee: Let the Witch Hunt Begin!

By Richard Thayer

It’s official. Members of the congressional supercommittee have now donned their capes and leotards and are hard at work (presumably) identifying $1.5 trillion in federal savings over the next 10 years. The 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction has until (ironically!) Thanksgiving to make its recommendations. If they fail (and all indications are they will), $1.2 trillion in cuts will begin automatically. That, of course, will be in addition to the $1 trillion in cuts that were approved by Congress back when our economy was on the verge of being sucked into a Black Hole because of congressional gridlock.

Here’s another irony: This committee on deficit reduction began its work the very same week that President Obama presents his job-creation speech. So on one hand we have a plan for job creation, while on the other hand we have folks hard at work eliminating jobs.

How’s that for fair and balanced?

And pray tell, who do you think will catch the brunt of the deficit reduction fiasco? If you said federal workers, you’re absolutely right. You see, there are many in Congress now, and at least six on the supercommittee, who believe federal and state workers are basically unnecessary.

That sentiment was recently exemplified by Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) when he said, “There are a lot of government employees that need to go find a real job.”

Wouldn’t you love to be a public worker in his state?

With a savings goal of $1.5 trillion look for the caped crusaders on the supercommittee to agree on hiring and wage freezes, layoffs, reduction in retirement payments, and increased health insurance costs.

Yes, if you’re an employee of the federal government you now have something in common with the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. You’re an endangered species!

And, like all super heroes, the dynamic dozen have their weakness as well. Their weakness is lobbyists. Lobbyists are to Congress what Kryptonite is to Superman. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the lobbyists with the most money will come out on top.

Observes Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, “When the committee sits down to do its work, it’s not like they’re in an idealized, platonic debating committee. They’re going to have in mind the interests of those they are most familiar with, including their big donors and former advisers.”

That may sound a bit jaded, but, unfortunately, it’s true. In a September 5 article in The Washington Post Dan Eggen points out that all 12 of the panel’s members have ties to lobbyists, people who were once members of their staff. He adds that nearly 100 registered lobbyists who used to work for these 12 lawmakers (and deficit reducers)now represent defense companies, health care conglomerates, Wall Street banks and others with a vested interest in the decisions being made by the dynamic dozen.

Of course committee members are aghast that anyone would think they could be influenced by lobbyists, whether they be former employees or not. Says Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), “I firmly believe that each member privileged to serve on this joint select committee must be prepared to check their preconditions, special-interest pledges, and sacred cows at the door.”

Unfortunately, into today’s anti-worker climate, federal workers aren’t considered sacred cows, they’re more like sacrificial lambs.

Katrina vanden Heuvel in her excellent article in defense of public workers observes that while the private sector has been adding jobs, the public sector has continued to lose them. Last month alone they lost 17,000. Look for the unemployment numbers among federal workers to increase after Thanksgiving (Just in time for Christmas!).

The cutting of these federal jobs, pay and benefits will be in keeping with recent actions in a number of our states, states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey and Florida.

Writes vanden Heuvel, “In states across the country, public workers aren’t just being laid off; they’re being made into economic scapegoats. These workers deserve to be treated fairly any time. But in the wake of Hurricane Irene, as we watched teams of federal, state and local government workers tirelessly saving lives, and on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, they deserve much better.”

Indeed they do.



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