The fight I was happy to miss while at Netroots Nation concerned the President’s comments about the private sector “doing fine” relative to the public sector. Because Obama didn’t explicitly use the phrase “relative to the public sector,” the implication was made that the President was out of touch amid a struggling economy. However, even without that caveat, the private sector is doing more than fine. Private-sector workers aren’t because they lost much of their bargaining power many years ago. But corporate profits are at all-time highs while wages are flat (perhaps “because” wages are flat), and corporations are sitting on trillions in reserves. The President has been uniquely solicitous of pro-business policies since the moment he came into office. And as a result, businesses, if you read it as large multinational corporations, are “doing fine,” and in a way that’s the whole problem.
But the conversation got sidetracked into this other comment from Mitt Romney about how the lesson of Wisconsin is that we need less teachers, firefighters and cops working in America. Looking to change the subject, the Obama campaign leaped all over these comments with the same fervor that Romney did the “doing fine” remark. The fact that the International Association of Fire Fighters endorsed President Obama on the same day that Romney said there ought to be less firefighters only solidified the comments. But of course, Romney has a long history of attacking firefighters:
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney often ended up sparring with firefighters and their unions. He proposed stripping collective bargaining rights for firefighters and police officers in a city that needed a state bailout, and cut funding to a fire station to be built on the site where six firemen died. He also proposed tripling the state police budget to deal with homeland security concerns in the years after 9/11, but didn’t offer a dime for firefighters, angering many at the time.
In 2004, when the city of Springfield was facing bankruptcy, Romney proposed a $52 million bailout package that included suspending collective bargaining and civil service benefits for the city’s unions, including public safety officers. “He hates us,” Robert McCarthy, the president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, told the Associated Press at the time. “Unions are what made this state what it is,” he said, but Romney “won’t even talk to us.” Romney spokesperson Nicole St. Peter defended the suspension of union benefits, telling the AP that the “control board” the governor appointed to oversee the city’s finances “needs maximum flexibility to restore Springfield’s financial footing.” The Democratic-controlled state Legislature eventually overrode Romney and preserved the bargaining rights, though the control board remained controversial in the city.
The fact that Scott Walker exempted cops and firefighters from his collective bargaining-stripping bill, and that he disagreed with Romney’s assessment that cuts to those positions would improve the economic situation, tells you what you need to know.
Romney tried to backtrack today by saying that states and localities handle employment for teachers and cops and firefighters. First of all, the President actually did have as part of the American Jobs Act a state fiscal aid bill that would have allowed states to rehire teachers and cops and firefighters, so the federal government isn’t powerless here. Second, we have the lived history of Romney running a state and trying to fire or antagonize public workers. Third, the federal government has a federal workforce, and there’s no reason to believe that Romney wouldn’t be just as antagonistic toward them. And fourth, we know that for a fact, by looking at Romney’s budget, which gives less federal support to education and which would lead to the firing of teachers.
And this of course matters. Just looking at statistics, if we had the same public sector growth in this recession that we’ve had in previous recessions, the unemployment rate would be a full point lower right now. Our economy is being stunted by austerity at the state and even federal level. So running on a platform of more of that should be rejected. But it’s crucial to run on a platform of government creating jobs to counteract that, which hasn’t really been a feature of this Administration to date, though that’s starting to turn around, as we see in this whole situation.