Matthew Yglesias provides a great explanation of how conservatives try to argue that federal workers are overpaid:
…this AEI working paper (PDF) [that’s] dedicated to the proposition that federal employees are “overpaid” seems to me to actually offer evidence that the federal pay scale is too stingy.
The authors describe the federal government’s official methodology:
The process is complex, but the Pay Agent essentially seeks to assign a general schedule (GS) level to a variety of private sector jobs within a broad set of occupational categories. Salaries for these jobs are then compared to salaries for federal positions at the same GS level. Private sector jobs assigned to a given GS level are typically seen to be more highly paid than their federal counterparts.
They characterize the Pay Agent’s method as concluding that federal workers are “underpaid.” But they criticize this method:
[T]he Pay Agent’s approach fails to account for different skill levels that private and public workers may possess in seemingly similar jobs. More specifically, there is evidence that the federal government hires workers at higher positions than they could hold in the private sector and then promotes them more quickly as well. This means, for example, that a senior accountant in government might qualify only as a junior accountant in the private sector.
What’s AEI saying?
The federal government needs to fill some jobs. But it offers salaries that are less than the salaries that a person doing a similar job could get in the private sector.
Naturally, this means that the federal government ends up attracting less-experienced applicants.
Hiring is then done from this less-experienced pool.
And since the people who are hired are doing jobs they’d be [initially] underqualified for in the private sector, they are making more money than they would be in the private sector.
CONCLUSION: federal workers are overpaid!
Would higher federal salaries attract more experience — and then would public / private pay be more equal in the eyes of conservative groups like AEI? Probably not — this argument about public sector employees isn’t about pay equity anyway. This is just more of what Robert Reich calls “The Republican Strategy,” which is – in part:
The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class – pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don’t believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class.
By splitting working America along these lines, Republicans hope to deflect attention from the big story. That’s the increasing share of total income and wealth going to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish.
Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer said Monday that the United States needed to invest in the public sector, because the country’s current policies clearly were not revving up the economy. “One thing that could help is a big, old-fashioned Keynesian stimulus,” he said on his Current TV show Viewpoint. “First, realize we’ve tried the Republican approach,” Spitzer explained. “As Paul Krugman and others point out, taxes have been cut and government spending has fallen, once you adjust for population and inflation. In fact, it has not fallen this quickly since the demobilization after the Korean war. So it’s no surprise that public sector employment is way down.” He noted that now was a good time for the U.S. government to borrow more money, because of the extremely low interest rates. — Raw Story
During an interview with CNN’s John King on Monday evening, Romney campaign surrogate Newt Gingrich defended Mitt Romney’s resistance to hiring “more firemen, more policemen, more teachers” and admitted that the former Massachusetts governor’s policy would lead to less teachers in the classroom:
[…] We have to come to grips with how big the challenge is, and does that mean there will be fewer teachers? The honest answer is yes. Does it mean that you’re not going to get quite the same pension plan people have been getting? The honest answer is yes. President Obama may say well, we can borrow our way out of that decision. I don’t think the American people agree with him.
Mitt Romney slammed President Obama last week for wanting to hire “more firemen, more policemen, and more teachers,” making a clear assertion that those workers belong among the 700,000 public sector workers who have lost their jobs in the last three years… [D]uring an appearance on Fox News Tuesday morning, Romney contradicted his own remarks, saying that the Obama campaign was making “a very strange accusation” when it claimed he didn’t want to hire more teachers:
[…] That’s a very strange accusation. Of course, teachers and firemen and policemen are hired at the local level and also by states. The federal government doesn’t pay for teachers, firefighters or policemen. So obviously that’s completely absurd. He’s got a new idea, though, and that is to have another stimulus and to have the federal government send money to try and bail out cities and states. It didn’t work the first time. It certainly wouldn’t work the second time.
I think we can all agree that what Romney said and meant originally was “completely absurd.” But apparently he’d like to revise history a little and say we’re all “completely absurd” for believing that’s what he said.
Charles P. Pierce points out an interesting (or maybe sad? pathetic?) bit of Republican hypocrisy regarding the High Park Fire in Colorado and federal firefighters (i.e. government parasites):
I’m not sure about the rest of the country, but, contra Willard Romney, I think both Colorado and New Mexico could use some more firefighters right now. That is certainly the opinion of the Colorado congressional delegation, which has dispatched a letter to the federal government appealing for more help. The delegation includes Rep. Scott Tipton (R -3d CD), Rep. Cory Gardner (R-4th CD), Rep, Mike (Stuck In A Groove) Coffman (R-6th CD). (As it happens, Gardner’s district is the one most directly affected by the wildfires.) Needless to say, but we’ll say it anyway, all three of these folks voted for the Paul Ryan budget, which would cut the daylights out of things like federal firefighting programs, which already are pretty imperiled.
Maybe the Republican delegation from Colorado should discuss their concerns with Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney — let their party leaders explain why it’s a good idea to have fewer firefighters? Especially Romney, who has a long history of hating on firefighters:
Mitt Romney came under fire this weekend from Democrats after he suggested that we shouldn’t hire more firefighters. Then top Romney surrogate John Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire, doubled down on Romney’s firefighter comments today, telling MSNBC they were not a “gaffe.” This is hardly the first time the presumed GOP nominee has tangled with firefighters. In fact, he has a long, bitter history with them. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney often ended up sparring with firefighters and their unions. He proposed stripping collective bargaining rights for firefighters and police officers in a city that needed a state bailout, and cut funding to a fire station to be built on the site where six firemen died. He also proposed tripling the state police budget to deal with homeland security concerns in the years after 9/11, but didn’t offer a dime for firefighters, angering many at the time.
With the ever-increasing cost of tuition and the highest youth unemployment since WWII, people are beginning to take the idea of creating one million new public service positions more seriously. LIKE or SHARE this if you think a program that would help young people pay for college and serve their country at the same time is a great idea!
It’s absurd that Romney doesn’t know the federal government DOES, in fact, pay for teachers, firefighters and cops — “That’s a very strange accusation,” Romney said on “Fox & Friends.” “Of course, teachers and firemen and policemen are hired at the local level and also by states. The federal government doesn’t pay for teachers, firefighters or policemen. So obviously that is completely absurd.” In fact, the federal government spends huge amounts of money to support all those professions. […] In all, the federal government pays for nearly 11 percent of the country’s public school costs. Uncle Sam also funds thousands of police jobs ever since the Community Oriented Policing Services program was created in 1994. […] The feds have doled out less for firefighters, but the money is still substantial. – HuffPo
NOTE TO ROMNEY: the federal government does fund teachers, firefighters and police – Romney’s comment demonstrates a disturbing lack of understanding of both federal funding and his own published plans. While it is true that teachers, firefighters, and police are hired at the local level, a significant portion of their funding, recruiting, and training comes from the federal government. Here are just some of the ways the federal government funds: continue reading – Think Progress
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) was happy to back up Romney’s position:“It is not the responsibility of the federal government … to send money down to state government so that state governments don’t have to make tough decisions about balancing their budgets. We all admire police officers, firefighters and teachers. The decision about how many of those folks to have rests in the hands of state and local governments.” […] A McConnell spokesman did not immediately answer a question about whether the minority leader thought it was time to stop federal spending under Title 1, IDEA, COPS and the SAFER program. – HuffPo
Flip-flop alert! Romney doesn’t want to argue against hiring cops. Now what? — You can see Romney trying various gambits to escape the logic of his position. First he says the federal government “doesn’t” pay for the cost of hiring those workers. That’s generally true, though in a massive economic crisis, state and local governments see their revenues collapse and their costs rise. Since they have to balance their budget and the federal government doesn’t, giving them temporary aid makes sense so that state and local government cutbacks don’t worsen the economic crisis. Romney wants to essentially push the question out of bounds — borrowing money to hire back cops and teachers may sound nice, but the government can’t do it, so fuggedaboutit. But, of course, the federal government obviously can borrow money to help strapped state and local governments. –Jonathan Chait
Fox & Friends is shielding Mitt Romney from scrutiny after the GOP presidential candidate suggested that we don’t need “more firemen, more policemen, more teachers,” selectively editing an interview with Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod to excise out his criticism of what Romney said. In doing so, Fox avoided a discussion of the merits of Romney’s comments: that we should not address or rectify the severe and unusual loss of public sector jobs or a conversation about how public sector job losses are hurting the overall economy. –MMFA
Romney Mocks Stimulus For Saving Jobs –When Mitt Romney mocks the Obama Administration for using stimulus funds to “protect government,” who he’s really attacking is police, firefighters, and teachers. The overwhelming majority of stimulus funds distributed to the states were used to prevent layoffs of public employees. Over 3 million public employees were in danger of losing their jobs following the onset of the recession, but the stimulus afforded states the funds they needed to avoid handing out massive amounts of pink slips. Pink slips that would have gone to police, firefighters, and teachers. As far as Romney is concerned, if you are a public employee then you are a leech, and he thinks you should be out of a job. Ensuring that you lose your job as an employee of the state is now a centerpiece of his campaign. As far as he’s concerned, the money used to employ you would be put to better use by passing another tax cut for himself. That’s not conjecture or hyperbole. That is his platform. – JM Ashby
Romney bashes stimulus, then fundraises in the home of a stimulus recipient – Romney will spend Tuesday night at a $10,000-a-head fundraiser at the house of Orrin H Ingram II, Chairman of the Ingram Barge Company — which received $130,000 in federal stimulus money. Ingram Barge Company is a private company, not a government entity. – Think Progress
President Obama: Debt, deficits were ‘baked into the cake’ with Bush’s tax cuts and the wars – “I love it when these guys talk about debt and deficits,” Obama told supporters in Baltimore. “I inherited a trillion dollar deficit. We signed two trillion dollars in spending cuts into law,” Obama said. “Spending under my administration has grown more slowly than under any president in 60 years.” Obama said that the country’s budget deficits and big debt were the result of the George W. Bush’s two tax cuts, as well as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “They baked all this stuff into the cake with those tax cuts… and the war,” Obama said. “It’s like somebody goes to a restaurant, orders a big steak dinner, a martini and all that stuff, then just as you’re sitting down they leave and accuse you of running up the tab,” Obama said – POLITICO
George W. Bush’s Tab – When you check reality, rather than the alternate universe constantly created by Fox News and an amnesiac press, you find that Bush had a chance to pay off all our national debt before we hit the financial crisis – giving the US enormous flexibility in intervening to ameliorate the recession. Instead, we had to find money for a stimulus in a cupboard stripped bare – its contents largely given away, by an act of choice. I’m tired of being told we cannot blame Bush for our current predicament. We can and should blame him for most of it – and remind people that Romney’s policies: more tax cuts, more defense spending are identical. With one difference: Bush pledged never “to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.” — Andrew Sullivan
The Fiscal Legacy of George W. Bush – Putting all the numbers in the C.B.O. report together, we see that continuation of tax and budget policies and economic conditions in place at the end of the Clinton administration would have led to a cumulative budget surplus of $5.6 trillion through 2011 – enough to pay off the $5.6 trillion national debt at the end of 2000. Tax cuts and slower-than-expected growth reduced revenues by $6.1 trillion and spending was $5.6 trillion higher, a turnaround of $11.7 trillion. Of this total, the C.B.O. attributes 72 percent to legislated tax cuts and spending increases, 27 percent to economic and technical factors. Of the latter, 56 percent occurred from 2009 to 2011. — Bruce Bartlett
“Let’s start with the idea that the Obama administration sees businesses as piggybanks. Since 1950, corporate tax receipts have averaged 2.7 percent of GDP. In the Obama years, they’ve averaged 1.16 percent of GDP… Going forward, the Obama administration’s budget envisions corporate tax receipts rebounding to about 2.4 percent of GDP — again, beneath their historical average… After taxes, corporate profits amounted to 6.9 percent of GDP in 2010 — their highest level since 1966… That’s a mighty odd outcome for an administration that supposedly sees the existence of private businesses as an unpleasant side effect of the government’s need for tax revenues, don’t you think?” — Ezra Klein
How Obama’s ‘Doing Fine’ Gaffe May Help Him – Americans may hate the idea of government in the abstract, but they like it in the specific. The Republican strategy is always to keep its discussion of government programs general — with a handful of exceptions, like foreign aid and programs that help the poor — while Democrats try to make it as specific as possible. Firing police officers, firefighters, and teachers is way less popular than firing government bureaucrats. Obama has taken great care to turn the question into one of those specific job categories, and Romney has inadvertently helped him. Also, and perhaps more important, the entire controversy has fixed the attention of the news media on the very point that Obama was trying to make: There are many fewer government employees now than there were when Obama took office. Romney is trying to attack Obama for changing his mind on the merits of this fact, but in so doing he is helping to drive home the very existence of this fact. […] What’s more, this debate fulfills a second goal of Obama’s: to place himself in opposition to the economic status quo. The broader purpose of his Friday press conference was to remind America that he has an economic plan that Republicans won’t enact. Romney’s general strategy is to force Obama to own everything that has happened to the economy, even those things that have happened over his opposition. Now Romney is endorsing the status quo, and Obama is against it. That is surely the opposite of what Romney wants. — Jonathan Chait
Federal, state, and local spending all fell under Obama
Transcript Via DailyKos: And we’re gonna take back this country and get America working again. (applause) And his answer for economic vitality, by the way, was of course pushing aside the private sector, which he said is doing fine. Instead, he wants to add more to government. He wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people. (applause)
“Not the Internet, not the recession, not private competition, Congress is killing the postal service,” Community and Postal Workers United wrote in a statement, NPR reports.
Federal Eye reports: ”But the biggest target is Congress, which has not passed legislation to reform the cash-strapped agency. The Senate approved a bill in April that would rebalance postal finances by giving billions of dollars to offer buyouts and early retirement incentives to employees. Several bills are pending in the House.”