An 18-month recession came to an official end in June 2009, according to a study released last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research. For good reason, few in the public believe it's over. With the economy stuck in neutral and unemployment locked at 9.6 percent, most see no choice but to keep cutting back because the future looks no brighter. Such sacrifice, of course, is only found in the private sector. The bulging ranks of federal government employees enjoy an above-average compensation package, automatic pay raises and a system rigged to protect even the most incompetent from ever being fired. For them, there's never been a need to sweat the malaise. Until now.
Freshman Rep. Mike Coffman, Colorado Republican, has introduced legislation designed to force the feds to cut back just like everyone else. A Gulf War veteran and former state treasurer, Mr. Coffman thinks it's time for insulated Washington types to implement simple cost-cutting measures modeled after techniques used at the state level, where budgets must be balanced by law.
"Furloughs are a proven and effective way to reduce the expense of government in times that call for austerity, and the federal government should not be exempt from the reality of the current economic climate," Mr. Coffman told The Washington Times.
By forcing bureaucrats to take two weeks of unpaid leave on nonconsecutive days, taxpayers would save about $5.5 billion. The effect of the furlough would be a temporary 4 percent cut in overly generous executive- and judicial-branch salaries. Congressional staff also would feel the heat, as members would have to adjust their office budgets by the same 4 percent. Mr. Coffman even practices what he preaches, having himself returned about $250,000 out of his office budget last year. To set a further example, the bill would pare back salaries for members of Congress by 10 percent, leaving them to make do on $156,600 per year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - or, more likely, her replacement - would take a $22,350 pay cut, and the Senate majority leader would see his paycheck thinned by $19,340.
While Mr. Coffman's idea is a hard sell in the current Congress, he will find himself ahead of the curve in January should the Tea Party movement succeed at infusing Capitol Hill with adherents to a limited-government philosophy. While a $5.5 billion savings represents a fraction of the $13.5 trillion public debt, overturning the bureaucracy's culture of entitlement would represent the first and most important step on the road to a sane fiscal policy.
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