Where to Cut: Public Union Benefits or Defense?

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s war on public-sector unions is being brought to the national stage by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). Coburn challenged members of Congress following the release of an exhaustive study by the Government Accountability Office that found many overlapping and duplicate programs from education to defense that cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year.  The study found 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality, 47 for job training and employment, as well as hundreds of military clinics that could gain from consolidating administrative, management and clinical functions.

According to Coburn, a physician who some call “Dr. No” in the Senate because he places holds on legislation that he considers to be unconstitutional, “Government employees, although they’re fabulous and they overall do a great job, they produce no net economic benefit in our country.  Matter of fact, they produce a net negative economic benefit.  So if you take the drag off the economy by nonproductive implementation of capital what you’re going to see is that capital is then going to be put to use in something that is productive.  We’re not talking about letting go hundreds and thousands of employees — we’re talking about streamlining things.  Even if it were hundreds of thousands of employees, if we’re not borrowing another $300 billion additional next year because we streamlined some programs, that has some tremendous benefit to the economy as well.”

In particular, Coburn challenges federal job-training programs. “Job training is wasteful.  We put ‘help wanted’ on our government website and we’re getting people who have been through these programs who say they are a total joke and a total waste of time.  I want a job-training program that actually trains somebody to do something that they get a job for.  Why should we have 47 different separate job training programs?  Nobody understands them all.  If it’s a federal role — which I question – -then any job-training program ought to be designed so that you can measure its effectiveness.  None of the 47 has any metrics on it to measure effectiveness.”

Senator Coburn’s position could have an impact on his popularity, much as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker’s controversial stance on public-employee unions has lowered his ratings. A Rasmussen poll reveals that almost 60 percent of likely Wisconsin voters now disapprove of their governor’s performance, with 48 percent strongly disapproving.  The poll also finds that the state’s public school teachers are very popular with their fellow Badgers.  With 77 percent of those polled holding a high opinion of their educators, it is not particularly surprising that only 32 percent among households with children in the public school system approve of the governor’s performance.

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