The House this afternoon moved legislation to the President's desk providing aid to fiscally distressed states that would save an estimated 319,000 jobs, including public school teachers, firefighters, police officers and private sector workers without adding to the budget deficit.
The conservative response, as summed up by The Heritage Foundation's Conn Carroll: "Government Workers Win, You Lose."
Oh, you didn't realize you are in zero-sum blood feud with teachers, firefighters and police officers? Apparently, when our kids have teachers, you lose! When police can stop crime, you lose! When people are saved from burning buildings, you lose!
For several weeks, I've chronicled how this deficit-neutral state aid bill has revealed conservative claims of concern over the budget deficit to be phony.
On the House floor today, we are still hearing conservatives give these bankrupt arguments. One shouted "We're broke!" as if 1) we are actually broke, which we are not, and 2) the bill would increase the deficit, which it would not.
But conservatives are broadening their arguments in hopes of using today's vote to drive a wedge between the public and our public servants. And, as usual, they are relying on made up numbers and misleading rhetoric to make their flimsy case.
Heritage's Carroll directly makes the zero-sum argument, asserting "President Barack Obama views the private sector the same way the Huns viewed a city - as something to be sacked and plundered for the benefit of public sector workers."
But how does he make that connection? By complaining that the aid to states "will be funded in part by $11 billion in tax hikes on U.S. companies that compete internationally."
Interestingly, Carroll's headline was not "Government Workers Win. Multinational Corporations Lose Their Tax Loopholes." Instead, he sought to imply that "you" are losing when multinational corporations have to contribute their fair share to our public education, health and safety.
Carroll then moves on to the conservative narrative du jour -- stoking hatred of government workers in general by smearing them as overpaid and wrongly "insulated from the current recession."
He backs up the assertion that government workers are paid more than private sector employees by citing a Heritage study. But as that study is not written by someone with a Ph. D. in economics, I'll take the several that are which found the exact opposite.
Most recently, CEPR's John Schmitt (Ph. D., London School Of Economics) found: "When state and local government employees are compared to private-sector workers with similar characteristics - particularly when workers are matched by age and education - state and local workers actually earn 4 percent less, on average, than their private-sector counterparts." Another report from an actual economist came out this year from EPI, finding New Jersey government workers are paid less than their private sector counterparts.
Paul Krugman makes the deeper point, that even if government workers got paid a little more, so what? Looking at the small percent of funds that goes towards compensation, he observes, "A few percent either way in workers' compensation would not make a big difference to state and local spending. This is a phony issue."
I would add that we might want government compensation to be generous to make sure we get good government services. For example, a computer and systems-information manager at the Department of Homeland Security gets a nice salary of $160,000. I say, good! I would like the best person possible in that job so I don't die.
Oh, but I forgot. If the Homeland Security system-information manager wins, I lose.
Carroll also appears bothered by the fact that the federal government is hiring while private companies, as well as state and local governments are not. He writes: "And it is not just federal worker compensation that has been insulated from the current recession. Unlike the private sector, the federal government has actually been adding jobs, too."
Other presidents who committed this horrible sin of hiring more workers: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
But during the Obama presidency, conservatives contend it's better for our government to have more unemployed people than than to put them to work.
Perhaps the conservatives' ire should be directed to private companies like Harley Davidson which are hoarding cash while engaging in layoffs, instead of at those actually creating jobs.
What kind of ridiculous tasks is Obama wasting our money on by hiring people? Reducing the backlog of Social Security cases. Improving medical care at VA facilities. Cleaning up toxic waste sites. -- Once again, you lose!
It is this very short-sighted conservative thinking that has gripped right-leaning Democrats and restrained them from supporting more robust jobs legislation.
But now, after this state aid debate, that the bizarre conservative disgust of teachers, firefighters and other public servants has been flaunted, maybe the ridiculousness of their anti-jobs view will be clearer and we can push anew for pro-jobs legislation.
Originally posted at OurFuture.org.