Saturday, October 25, 2003

The glass is only half empty
The Senate just voted to give themselves a pay raise. Although this is an incredibly crass and insensitive thing for them to do when the economy is in the crapper and millions are unemployed, they could have behaved much worse.

Technically, they voted not to exempt themselves from a cost of living raise for civilian government employees. Congressional raises are tied to raises for the civil service. This is a fairly recent innovation that saves any individual congressperson from having to put their name down as the sponsor for a bill raising their own pay. So by giving a raise to the civil service they should get a raise without political consequences. However, some clever people have figured out how to make them put there name down on the record as specifically voting themselves a raise. Russell Feingold proposed an amendment to the payroll bill that would have exempted Congress from this year’s raise. The only way to get the raise was to vote to kill the amendment. In a heartwarming show of bipartisanship, rarely seen these days, 64 Senators did just that.

How could they have made this worse? Well, they could have cancelled the civil service raise. And indeed, that’s just what the President of Compassionate Conservatism wanted to do. Bush’s proposal, sent just before Labor Day, was to cut the civil service raise in half and privatize thousands of their jobs. In keeping the raise and preserving the raise (in a 91 to 3 vote) the Senate defied the popular wartime President. In addition, the Senate only took the smaller raise that Bush originally proposed. So they get two-thirds of a pat on the back.

Meanwhile, Bush’s plan to gut the civil service by privatizing their jobs—he calls it “competitive sourcing”—still has some life in it. New OMB regulations, known as Circular A-76, allow the government to farm out more jobs through private sector bidding. A bill to repeal Circular A-76 was proposed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski and failed by one vote on a mostly party-line vote. If Kerry and Edwards had been home it would have passed. The closeness of the vote probably means the civil service is safe for now. On the other hand, if Bush gets a second term or the Republicans increase their majorities in congress, it’s a sure bet that hundreds of thousands of good middle-class jobs will become minimum wage temp jobs.

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