Federal worker union blasts tea party in radio ad

A graduate student at UCLA studied the signs at the 9/12 Taxpayer March on Washington. Here's what she found.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 6:45 PM

The nation's largest federal worker union plans to air a radio ad in seven states to attack tea party-backed Republican congressional candidates who promise to cut government spending and freeze federal hiring.

In the ad, the American Federation of Government Employees knocks what it calls "bumper sticker solutions" presented by the candidates to pay down the federal deficit, arguing that blanket federal spending cuts would affect Social Security payments, veterans' health care and border security, among other services.

"The Republican tea party Pledge to America says, 'Cut taxes for the rich and cut government,' " AFGE President John Gage says in the ad. "Some have even said, 'Close the government down.' Then what? Food and mine inspection - gone. Forget about border patrol or keeping terrorists locked up. And returning veterans? Give them a cheap voucher instead of a quality VA hospital. Let's dump in the rivers and pollute the air again."

Toward the end, Gage says: "We're all angry and frustrated. But when you vote, remember who got us into this mess in the first place."

House Republicans announced a series of proposals last month that would scale back this year's health-care reforms and curtail government spending by cutting wasteful programs and implementing a one-year freeze on the hiring of non-security federal workers.

The hiring freeze "is reasonable and necessary," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who helped announce the proposals. "In the face of massive debt, we must do more with less."

AFGE - which represents about 600,000 federal workers - plans to air its 60-second counter message in Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, states with competitive Senate races and high-profile GOP candidates. The ad will air through Election Day, during morning and afternoon drive-time shows on news, sports and music stations, costing the union about $500,000.

The ad buy is modest when compared with Democratic and Republican campaign committees that spend a similar figure each week in individual states or competitive congressional districts.

"We're trying to let people see what government really is," Gage said in an interview. "I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people really don't get it and really have to be thinking about what alternatives there are after you try to go make up this deficit by cutting government programs."

Some GOP candidates are citing the proposed hiring freeze during debates and campaign speeches.

Asked Thursday about potential government spending cuts, Republican Christine O'Donnell, who is running for the Senate in Delaware, suggested putting "a hiring freeze on non-security personnel. And then, of course, when we're talking about cutting government spending, we've got to talk about waste, fraud and abuse."

"Waste and abuse and saving paper clips is not the answer to this deficit problem," Gage said, urging Republicans to present more substantive proposals. In the meantime, AFGE will fight to keep Democrats in office, he said.

"We would love to be very bipartisan, but it's hard to be bipartisan when one side is just trying to cut your throat," Gage said.

The union aired a similar public awareness campaign last summer.

Staff writers Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report. To hear audio for the ad, go to washingtonpost.com/federaleye.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company