In a weekend interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) described state-level clashes between conservative politicians and public employee unions as one part of a “giant fight over the future for our country.” In this fight, Boehner said, public employees are armed and dangerous:
Governors are trying to find ways to balance their budgets, which they’re required to do. In some of these states you’ve got collective bargaining laws that are so weighted in favor of the public employees that there’s almost no bargaining. We’ve given them a machine gun and put it right at the heads of the local officials and they really have their hands tied. And I think what you’re seeing in these states is they’re trying to bring some balance to these negotiations that when you look at the pay of public employees today and you look at their retirement benefits they are way out of line with many other working Americans. So all of these Governors are going to have big challenges and it’s not just going to be the Governors. You’re going to see every political jurisdiction in America grapple with what do we need to do as opposed to what do we want to do. All of them are going to go through a very difficult period.
Boehner is sorely mistaken about the role of public employee unions in state budget crises. In 80 percent of the states that do not have collective bargaining rights for public employees, the budget crises are worse than in Wisconsin. Also, public employees in Wisconsin have already agreed to reduce their salaries — which, contra Boehner, are not “way out of line” with other working Americans.
Aside from contradicting Boehner’s plea for more civility earlier this year, his characterization of machine-gun wielding public employee unions belies a popular conservative talking point that nobody is trying to defame public workers. “No one’s demonizing or vilifying public employees,” said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) yesterday. “People are not denigrating state workers,” said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R).