Paul Ryan performed a phalange-ectomy today on CNN’s State of the Union today, cleaning up comments he made about military leaders lying to Congress about their true opinions on the defense budget. Here’s how he answered Candy Crowley’s question about the exchange:
RYAN: I really misspoke, to be candid with you, Candy. I didn’t mean to make that kind of impression. So, I was clumsy in describing the point I was trying to make. The point I was trying to make — and General Dempsey and I spoke after that. I wanted to give that point to him, which is that’s not what I was attempting to say.
So in our political system, you can call for the mass firings of federal employees, you can abolish Medicare as we know it and block-grant Medicaid so it will become inaccessible to poor people, you can basically assault anyone and anything in the pursuit of ideological purity. But if you criticize a military leader, you have to go on television and humbly apologize. That’s just how it works.
The larger issue here concerns the military budget and the looming showdown coming in the next several months. Ryan wants to cut the overall budget below the agreed-upon targets from last year’s Budget Control Act, which gave us the debt limit increase. But he wants to increase defense spending above the President’s budget targets. Ryan’s budget, passed by the House last week, also set up a reconciliation process to cover sequestration cuts which will be triggered at the end of the year, replaced by cuts to the federal workforce.
All of these issues will be contentious and could risk a government shutdown at the height of election season, when this year’s budget runs out at the end of September.
Meanwhile, with all the focus on spending on public employees as the main replacement for defense cuts in the Ryan budget, you wouldn’t know that, at the same time, the Senate has taken a look at runaway contractor spending, one of the true growth areas in the federal budget:
“Spending on service contractors has outpaced spending on federal employees,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) as she opened a hearing Thursday of the ad hoc subcommittee on contracting. “The cost of service contracts has increased by 44 percent over the last 10 years, from $181 billion to $324 billion, while in the same time period, spending on federal employees has increased by 34 percent, from $170 billion to $229 billion.”
McCaskill praised bipartisan legislation offered by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) that would cap the amount the federal government reimburses individual contract employees at $400,000. A bill by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) would limit such reimbursement to $200,000. Currently, Uncle Sam is allowed to pay $693,000 to individual contractors, who might be paid additional sums by their companies.
Service contractors do a wide range of government work, often in the same space as federal staffers, but without the same restrictions on pay.
So much for the adage that the private market always performs task in a more cost-efficient manner than the government. There’s more in this report from the Project on Government Oversight.