Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's Just Politics

Cathy McMorris Rodgers railed against federal salaries yesterday and is she ever upset.

Even though federal tax revenues are down 20 percent and the national debt has ballooned to $12 trillion, President Barack Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill continue to believe that we can borrow and spend our way to prosperity. As part of that plan, they’re using our hard-earned tax dollars to increase the size of government and the salary of bureaucrats.

While the private sector has lost a total of 7.7 million jobs during the past two years, the ranks of the federal bureaucracy have swelled by nearly 10 percent. Furthermore, while the average salary in the private sector is $40,331, a typical federal worker earns $71,206.
When the economy turned south two years ago, the Department of Defense had 1,868 employees earning $150,000 or more. Today, there are 10,100 employees at the Pentagon taking home that salary. At the start of the economic slump, the Department of Transportation had only a single career employee earning more than $170,000. Today, there are more than 1,600 career federal workers at the DOT making that amount. Obama has recommended an additional 2 percent pay raise for 2010. That’s unconscionable.

She refers to "President Obama and his allies". Who are these people that have helped our president over these Comparing the average private sector salary with the federal is misleading. Private sector salaries include a lot of jobs, especially those paying minimum wage and/or require little skill, that you don't find in the federal sector. It would be more appropriate to compare like jobs instead. But our congresswoman has a possible solution.

That’s why I am calling for a salary freeze on all federal salaries above $120,000 until unemployment is under 7 percent, which should be in the next two or three years. Those who are earning three times as much as their peers in the private sector can make do until we reach that benchmark.

Perhaps she feels the same about CEOs who make millions more--even when they fail--than the average worker whose pay has decreased in worth over the past 30 years. Look for that in another op-ed piece but don't hold your breath.

Now is it possible our fair Congresswoman is being a bit deceptive? Could she not be telling the whole story? Is she just trying to score political points? She wouldn't do any of that, would she?

Let's have a look. In her complaint she references an investigative report done by USA Today but she doesn't give you the link nor does she invite you to go read it for yourself. She must be slow to anger as the report came out on December 10, 2009. If you scroll down to the end you'll find what Paul Harvey referred to as the rest of the story.

Key reasons for the boom in six-figure salaries:

• Pay hikes. Then-president Bush recommended — and Congress approved — across-the-board raises of 3% in January 2008 and 3.9% in January 2009. President Obama has recommended 2% pay raises in January 2010, the smallest since 1975. Most federal workers also get longevity pay hikes — called steps — that average 1.5% per year.

• New pay system. Congress created a new National Security Pay Scale for the Defense Department to reward merit, in addition to the across-the-board increases. The merit raises, which started in January 2008, were larger than expected and rewarded high-ranking employees. In October, Congress voted to end the new pay scale by 2012.

• Paycaps eased. Many top civil servants are prohibited from making more than an agency's leader. But if Congress lifts the boss' salary, others get raises, too. When the Federal Aviation Administration chief's salary rose, nearly 1,700 employees' had their salaries lifted above $170,000, too.

As Cathy McMorris Rodgers sees it, President Obama believes we can "borrow and spend our way to prosperity" by proposing the lowest pay raise in 35 years. President Bush's two generous pay raises before that were not problem, probably because only two short years ago he made her so proud to be an American.

Yes, "Great job, Mr President."

Congress is to blame for the Department of Defense pay schedule balloon--before Obama became president.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which was specifically addressed in the report, is a subordinate agency within the Department of Transportation which our fair congresswoman portrayed as a bunch of gold diggers. The FAA has an interesting history, most notably President Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers back in 1981. But a distinction the organization has is its ability to negotiate salaries and compensation separately from the remainder of federal agencies and employees. This was proposed by President Clinton and passed into law by a Republican-controlled Congress back in 1996. You can read more about that in this Heritage Foundation article from almost four years ago. Although the article actually supports privatizing the air traffic control system, it provides a lot of the back story necessary to understand why the FAA is treated differently. But I found this snippet interesting.

Yet with Congress under growing pressure to control spending better and hold the line on taxes, Members may not be inclined to aid a privileged class of government [air traffic control] workers whose base salaries are already more than four times the average annual salary of their constituents employed in the private sector.

To thwart this outcome, several Members of Congress have introduced legislation to overturn the congressional role provided by the federal laws governing FAA–controller contract negotiations. Senator Barack Obama (D–IL) introduced S. 2201 in the Senate, and Representative Sue Kelly (R–NY) has introduced its companion bill (H. R. 4755) in the House of Representatives to limit the government’s ability to curb the excessive growth in controller wages.

It appears Obama was hell bent on borrowing and spending our way towards prosperity back then, too.

To be fair, Cathy McMorris Rodgers wants the pay freeze to apply to members of Congress as well. Since 1989, Congress gets an automatic pay raise unless they specifically vote not to receive it which they have done several times over the years. As it happens, there is a House bill that was submitted just last December to forgo the pay raise in fiscal year 2011. There are 120 cosponsors and guess whose name is not on the list. None other than our indignant Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

It must be a Democratic bill. Oh, snap!


Lucas said...

Oh, where to start with our dear Representative.

The figure for private sector is dragged down by the really large number of people forced to work for minimum wage in this country. Unfortunately the government (of any kind) doesn't employ enough burger-flippers to drag the wage down. It does, however, employ lots of educated people who stay in their positions for a long time, which gives us great continuity and institutional memory - valuable assets for keeping the free world humming like a well-oiled machine.

I have been in front-line management in the private sector and I can promise you that you don't want a bunch of people making just above minimum wage running your government.

Also, I can think of 435 people in the federal government who could lead the charge by volunteering to work for the $40k private sector average. Maybe good ol' Rep. McMorris Rodgers could lead by example and be the first one.

Sherry said...

I heard this week that Colorado Springs has decided to keep their municipal workers employed--cutting back or cutting out many city services: no pools, parks, no POTHOLE REPAIRS. (They probably got that idea from Spokane; they stopped fixing potholes a LONG time ago :)