- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2010

It has become clear that the president and those in the majority in Congress have sorely misjudged the ire of the American people. Waving that anger away as racism, ignorance or just plain “anti-incumbent” sentiment, they fail to realize that at the core, Americans have grown incredibly angry over the way their money is being spent. One thought the president might have gotten the message, declaring that the era of bailouts was over. And yet, as in so many other instances when the Democrats have said one thing and done just the opposite, the United States’ labor unions can expect a reported $165 billion to ensure they are able to meet the demands of their struggling pension funds. It’s safe to say that when Mr. Obama says there will be no more bailouts, the American people can expect a bailout.

The best we can say about this is that it is terrible public policy - enshrining years of bad pension management coupled with an entitlement policy founded on idiotic assumptions. At its worst, it is outrageous - a bald-faced payback for the years of Big Labor’s fealty to the Democratic Party machine, a machine that operates against the best interests of rank-and-file union members by creating policies that have eviscerated the U.S. manufacturing sector and driven jobs overseas.

What’s more, there’s reason to suspect that at least some of that money will be spent by the unions to make sure their candidates in office - the ones who support union causes and issues - remain in office.

This speculation is supported by the fact that at least two major unions reportedly are gearing up to spend $100 million to re-elect congressional members currently seated, despite reports that the American public is losing faith in the direction they’re going with economic recovery. Both the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have pledged to spend millions for Democratic incumbency protection. The AFL-CIO also is planning to help Democratic candidates retain their seats but has not divulged the amount it plans to spend.

At this point, it would be unfair to say definitively that part of the $165 billion going to unions to help their struggling pension funds will go toward the millions they plan to spend to retain incumbent Democrats in Congress. However, considering that unions gave nearly $400 million to Mr. Obama and the Democrats in 2008 for campaign contributions, as well as millions more for in-kind contributions, it is fair to suspect that the bailout is political payback for support during the election.

All of this begs an interesting question: If the unions had $400 million to give to Mr. Obama to help him get elected, why didn’t they use that money to prop up their own pension funds? Granted, it wouldn’t have made much of a dent in the $165 billion they’ll be getting from the taxpayers, but it would have made a slight one. The answer: because it’s a calculated bet. They chose to invest that $400 million in a situation that would garner them a larger payoff in the future once the bailout occurred.

This should infuriate taxpayers forced to pay for this kind of gamble and the rank-and-file union members who pay their dues only to have their promised pension money used in some sort of twisted version of Vegas blackjack. Is the intent to use some of the bailout money to ensure that those rank-and-file union members - many of whom are out of work along with their non-union brethren - will vote the right way during the November election? After all, there would be no better way to ensure incumbency protection than by convincing the local voters that the party of the big bailout is the one that has their backs in November.

Andrew Langer is president of the Institute for Liberty.

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