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EDITORIAL: Unions first, troops last

Democrats hold war funding hostage for Big Labor

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Funding for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq could be held up by the war brewing on Capitol Hill among congressional Democrats and the White House. When the Senate returns to take up the $45.5 billion supplemental appropriations bill that passed the House on July 1, the central issue to resolve will be how best to appease Big Labor.

Like most supplementals, this bill began with a singular purpose: paying war expenses. It since has been larded with billions in wasteful projects and programs designed to attract the vote of the left-of-center members with no fondness for the military. Among the House-approved giveaways are a $10 billion bailout for big-spending local governments, loan guarantees worth $9 billion for purported renewable energy, $3 billion for black farmers and American Indians who sued the government and $1 billion for summertime "youth activities."

Education unions that detest any hint of innovation in their industry convinced House Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, to redirect $800 million in funding mostly taken from "Race to the Top," President Obama's modest replacement for No Child Left Behind. That was enough to instigate a veto threat from the White House last week.

Even if appropriators cave on this sticking point, unions can expect a big win if House-inserted language survives to force states to accept collective bargaining for police, firefighters and paramedics. As written, the bill would cancel laws in Virginia and North Carolina that prohibit public-safety employees from unionizing. Instead, unelected bureaucrats at the Federal Labor Relations Authority will take charge and decide what policies meet administration standards. In case of a dispute between management and a new police union, for example, the Labor Relations Czar would create an arbitration process to decide what "hours, wages, and terms and conditions of employment" are appropriate.

The benefit to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees of enriching the ranks of its dues-paying members is obvious, but the support of some Republicans for this power grab is troubling. The legislation gives firefighter unions the power they have long sought to extinguish the unpaid competition of volunteer firefighters. The Fraternal Order of Police has thrown its weight behind the labor provision as a "top priority," as it obviously would generate new members and revenue.

Police and firefighter unions traditionally are friendly to the Grand Old Party, but Republicans should not succumb to their fair-weather appreciation. Allowing federal officials to extend the reach of labor bosses will inflict lasting damage on our already troubled economy. It's time for Congress to kick the habit of short-term funding through stimulus, omnibus and supplemental funding legislation. Our troops deserve a clean funding bill. Our nation deserves a real budget.

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