Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., has a long overdue message from America's taxpayers to Washington politicians and bureaucrats: It's time for you to share our pain. Coffman proposes to furlough all nonessential federal workers for two weeks next year. That's a radical proposal only in the nation's capital. Twenty-four states are presently furloughing public sector workers in response to budget problems. The Coffman bill also cuts the $174,000 salaries of senators and representatives by 10 percent. A mere $5.5 billion in savings would result if Hoffman's measure is approved, but that's not the point. As Heritage Foundation analyst Jason Richwine said during a panel discussion Tuesday on civil service overcompensation, the debate over federal salaries is really "a matter of government legitimacy." Are these people America's civil servants or our masters?
For nearly two years, millions of private-sector workers have made often painful sacrifices because of failed federal economic policies and skyrocketing federal spending and debt. But the opposite has been true for federal workers. Starting in 2008, federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14 percent to 19 percent of the total civil service work force of 2.0 million. During the same period, Washington added about 100,000 new jobs, while more than seven million jobs in the private sector vaporized. Average compensation for federal workers is now $123,049 -- more than double the private-sector average. Federal salaries have grown twice as fast as those in the private sector over the past decade, and civil servants are only one-third as likely to quit their jobs as private-sector employees.
It is thus no coincidence that of the 10 counties with the highest per capita incomes in America, six are in the Washington area. The federal government has made its work force recession-proof. Want to know one of the reasons why the $814 billion economic stimulus bill failed miserably? Four out of five jobs President Obama claimed the bill "created or saved" were in government, reports the Heritage Foundation.
Unfortunately, we have little reason to believe Congress will cut its pay or rein in the federal bureaucracy. Last week, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., fired off an angry letter to the House Democratic leadership for refusing to schedule a vote on her bill to cut congressional pay by 5 percent. It's been 77 years since Congress voluntarily took a pay cut. In the year of the Tea Party, if the rest of Congress doesn't take the Coffman and Kirkpatrick bills seriously, voters will have the opportunity in November to remind them what it's like to be unemployed.