Politics & Policy

The Attack of The Union Demagogues

Congressional Republicans must hold their ground and pass the budget reconciliation bill.

Let’s get right to the point here: Liberal public employee unions want the government to get bigger so they can have more money and you can have less.

If you want the government to grow bigger, and want to pay more in taxes, then stop reading right here. But if you want to see the size of the government and the tax burden held in check, or even reduced, please continue, so that you can learn about the latest effort (an inside job, really) by the government aggrandizers to spend more and, ultimately, tax more.

When federal spending is left on autopilot — angled upward — the resulting superstate becomes disastrous for our children and grandchildren. Unchecked, government programs grow annually, displacing ever larger spheres of private economic life. Meanwhile, the prosperity created by economic freedom is replaced by the misery of a largely incompetent federal bureaucracy.

Currently, the long-term fiscal-policy outlook is bleak. A report issued last month by the Congressional Budget Office shows that federal spending as a percentage of the U.S. economy, a number that has never historically deviated much from 20 percent, is now scheduled to nearly double in size to 38 percent by 2050. That’s the intermediate spending scenario — the high-spending scenario pegs the size of government in 2050 at a shocking 55 percent of the economy. We’re headed for big trouble unless Congress rights the ship and limits this explosive increase in entitlement spending.

Fortunately, for the first time in eight years, Congress has acted to prevent entitlement spending from automatically jumping. The budget reconciliation bill that was recently passed by both the House and the Senate does increase entitlement spending, but it does so more slowly than would otherwise have been the case. It primarily reduces the coming increase in entitlement spending by reducing fraud. For example, one of the largest items in the bill is a provision that would make it harder for well-off retirees to divest their assets to qualify for Medicaid’s nursing-home care, a manipulation of the system that all in Congress should favor ending.

While the reconciliation bill does relatively little to restrict the growth of spending in its final form (many stronger provisions were negotiated away), it sets an important precedent whereby increases in entitlement spending should be justified on their merits and not allowed to drift on autopilot toward an ultimate wreck.

Because of a procedural quirk, the House will have to vote again on budget reconciliation when they return from recess. The unions, of course, are trying to ratchet up pressure on Republican moderates to switch their vote. (The latest example of this is a new ad campaign paid for by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union.)

Government employees understandably would like to see the government take over as much of the U.S. economy as possible. As government bloats, they see more members, more political power, and more membership dues that can be directed toward high-six-figure advertising buys that bash congressmen for acknowledging fiscal reality.

Unfortunately, any attempt to modestly limit the growth of government is met by howls of protest from the special-interest groups (i.e., the unions) that benefit from big government and its culture of dependency. Congressional Republicans who are willing to stand up to this onslaught and vote for spending restraint deserve our strongest possible praise. Our children and grandchildren will be thankful, too.

Mallory Factor is chairman and Phil Kerpen is policy director of the Free Enterprise Fund.


The Latest