Topic: Government and Politics

Pampered European Bureaucrats Threaten Strike

There’s been a lot of attention given to overpaid government workers in America, as many people have documented, but the problem is global. Bureaucrats who work for the European Union get lavish pay and benefits, yet are threatening to strike because of a proposed pay freeze. These mandarins already pay reduced taxes, get a host of special allowances, and even have the gall to demand free travel on public transport. Interestingly, as this story for Euractiv.com indicates, they apparently realize they have privileged positions and are worried that the current controversy may spark some resentment from over-burdened taxpayers:

Staff at the European institutions are preparing to go on strike next week in a bitter pay dispute sparked by national governments’ decision to block a routine salary increase for EU civil servants. Civil service staff are due to receive a 3.7% pay hike… There is widespread acceptance that the pay rise is legally binding but other options are currently under consideration – much to the chagrin of unions. Diplomatic sources indicated it may be possible to proceed with the 3.7% pay rise, but to initiate a parallel move which would effectively negate the increase. This could include increasing the so-called ‘crisis levy’, which allows European civil servants to be taxed in exceptional circumstances.  …Diplomats said some EU civil servants are concerned that the dispute could open a can of worms if the spotlight is turned on their generous pay and benefits, including the permanent repatriation allowance paid to civil servants – even if they have been in Brussels for 30 years.

Sunlight Before Signing Progress: Whitehouse.gov Encourages Public Comment

The White House’s web site, Whitehouse.gov, has begun posting the bills Congress sends down Pennsylvania Avenue so they can get a final public review. This actually began some time ago, but a link from the home page now directs visitors (and search engines) to the bills that await the president’s signature.

This is an important step toward fulfilling President Obama’s campaign promise to post the bills he receives from Congress online for five days before he signs them. I’ve written about it several times, most recently here.

Take a look for yourself: On the Whitehouse.gov home page, a link at the bottom of the “Featured Legislation” column says “Comment on Pending Legislation.”

Currently, four bills are listed there, arranged in order by the dates they were posted. The final language isn’t posted at the link, and it takes a little sophistication to find the final version at the linked-to page on the Thomas system, but this is substantial progress.

Kudos to the White House for moving toward full implementation of President Obama’s Sunlight Before Signing promise.

Federal Salaries Explode

That’s the subject of a USA Today analysis, which reveals an outrageous increase in salaries at the top levels of the federal workforce. I’ve been complaining about excessive federal pay for some time based on one set of data, and now Dennis Cauchon provides strong support for my thesis using a different set of data.

Cauchon finds that since the economy fell into recession, the number of federal workers earning more than $150,000 has more than doubled. The federal government has become extremely bloated and top heavy, even as families and businesses across the nation have had to tighten their belts. With 383,000 workers earning six-figure salaries, the government has become an elite island of overcompensated administrators immune from the competitive job realities of average families.

There are a remarkable 22,000 federal civilians earning salaries of over $170,000, illustrating that Big Government works for the benefit of well-off insiders, not average Americans. And Cauchon only looks at salaries and wages. Average annual federal benefits are more than $41,000, which pushes total federal compensation even further ahead of the private sector average.

The Bush administration let federal pay and benefits grow completely out of control, as it did with other areas of federal spending. President Obama has an opportunity to fix these problems. He should call for a multi-year freeze on federal pay, work to overhaul a system that moves workers up the pay scales too rapidly, and begin purging the upper ranks of federal management.

Here are some of my recent analyses of federal pay:

“Send Us Your Tired, Your Poor, But Only if They’re ‘Culturally Unique’ ”

That’s the title of a Wall Street Journal article detailing the latest idiocy to come out of our immigration system.  It seems that if you’re a musician trying to get a visa to perform in the United States, you have to prove to some bureaucrat’s satisfaction that your music either is “culturally unique” or has “achieved international recognition and acclaim.”  (Query: Does the Department of Homeland Security now require immigration caseworkers to have degrees in musicology or fine arts?)

The article chronicles the various travails of performers who are either so innovative – perish the thought! – as to not fit into an easily defined cultural category or haven’t yet reached U2-like levels of popularity. 

Reads one denial: “The evidence repeatedly suggests the group performs a hybrid or fusion style of music … [which] cannot be considered culturally unique to one particular country, nation, society, class, ethnicity, religion, tribe or other group of persons.”

Reads another: “Being internationally acclaimed is not equivalent to performing on stages overseas.”

You can’t make this stuff up!  It reminds me of my own immigration plight – which ended happily earlier this year – whereby I shot myself in the foot by, among other ridiculous things, getting my education in the United States instead of acquiring legal expertise abroad (at lesser institutions, making myself less valuable to the U.S. legal market).

I’ve heard some talk that Congress will take up immigration reform after it finishes with health care, though I can’t imagine that happening in an election year.  In any event, I’ve long believed that our immigration non-policy is the worst part of the U.S. government (which should say something, coming from someone at Cato).

For more on our work on immigration policy, go here.

How to Kill a Company: A Beginner’s Guide (Chapter 1, P. 1.)

As described in the current Cato Policy Report, one of the “Hard Lessons from the Auto Bailout” is that management at GM is likely to be “highly erratic, as the president and Congress wrestle for decisionmaking primacy at this majority taxpayer-owned entity.”  The “dealerships” issue is Exhibit A.

One of GM’s first decisions upon emerging from bankruptcy was to announce closures of a number of dealerships to help reduce costs. Then-nominal-CEO Fritz Henderson explained that the planned closings would save GM about $100 in distribution costs per vehicle–a few hundred million dollars per year when factoring in the millions of units GM expects to produce.

But many of GM’s congressional CEOs cried foul, demanding reconsideration from a company that had taken public funds.  The House of Representatives even passed a bill requiring companies that received federal funds to reestablish terminated dealership agreements, though no action was taken in the Senate.

However, as reported in The Hill today, Congress is fast-tracking legislation to restrict GM’s (and Chrysler’s) closings, by subjecting each decision to an arbitrator, who will “balance the economic interests of the terminated dealership, the car companies and the general public.”  A Senate aide is cited as saying legislators intend to pass this measure before Christmas.

Well, look, EVERY decision GM makes will produce winners and losers in terms of real and opportunity costs.   Hence, EVERY decision is just as worthy of legislative or executive scrutiny, if the dealership issue is the litmus test. 

With 537 CEOs, all but one of whom have bigger priorities than GM’s bottom line, GM’s future will be dictated by splitting differences, political logrolling, and managing by consensus–tactics that will assure GM’s demise.

Red Team, Blue Team

In a report on Attorney General Eric Holder’s approach to seeking the death penalty, NPR reports:

A few months after Holder made that statement, he authorized a capital prosecution in Vermont, a state that does not have the death penalty. When Ashcroft brought a federal death penalty case in Vermont seven years ago, the mayor of Burlington called it “an affront to states’ rights” and “not consistent with the values of a majority of Vermonters.” But this time, there was hardly any outcry.

So the former antiwar movement doesn’t complain about President Obama’s expansion of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And opponents of capital punishment don’t protest the Obama administration’s seeking the death penalty in liberal Vermont. It’s beginning to look a lot like the Bush years, when conservatives put up with a great deal from a Republican administration that would have sent them into apoplexy if it had been done by Democrats.

Rick Santorum and Limited Government?

santorumScary news today from Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker: despite losing his reelection bid in 2006, former senator Rick Santorum is still thinking about running for president. He tells Parker that he represents the Ronald Reagan issue trinity: the economy, national security and social conservatism. And he’s the limited-government guy:

Both pro-life and pro-traditional family, Santorum is an irritant to many. But he insists that such labels oversimplify. Being pro-life and pro-family ultimately mean being pro-limited government.

When you have strong families and respect for life, he says, “the requirements of government are less. You can have lower taxes and limited government.”

But Santorum is no Reaganite when it comes to freedom and limited government. He told NPR in 2005:

One of the criticisms I make is to what I refer to as more of a libertarianish right. You know, the left has gone so far left and the right in some respects has gone so far right that they touch each other. They come around in the circle. This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don’t think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone. That there is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.

He declared himself against individualism, against libertarianism, against “this whole idea of personal autonomy, … this idea that people should be left alone.” Andrew Sullivan directed our attention to a television interview in which the senator from the home state of Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson denounced America’s Founding idea of “the pursuit of happiness.” If you watch the video, you can hear these classic hits: “This is the mantra of the left: I have a right to do what I want to do” and “We have a whole culture that is focused on immediate gratification and the pursuit of happiness … and it is harming America.”

Parker says that Santorum is “sometimes referred to as the conscience of Senate Republicans.” Really? By whom? Surely not by Reaganites, or by people who believe in limited government.