As Paul Ryan prepares to accept the House speaker’s gavel, a top Democrat who worked both beside and against him on federal budgets says the Wisconsin Republican’s proposals are “very hostile to federal employees.”
Before Ryan agreed to seek the top legislative post, he wrote House budgets during his four years as chairman of the Budget Committee. There, he viewed federal employees as a privileged class. Sitting next to him in the committee room was Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the panel’s ranking Democrat whose suburban Maryland district is home to thousands of government workers.
While they were close on the dais, they are at opposite ends of the spectrum on the way the budget should treat folks who actually operate the government. Ryan, who left the budget panel to be Ways and Means Committee chairman in January, is considered a strong, principled conservative, rather than an uncompromising right-wing ideologue like his colleagues who pushed the current speaker to retire and convinced the heir apparent not to run.
Van Hollen was not polite as he described what Ryan in the speaker’s office would mean for the workforce.”
“Here’s what we know,” Van Hollen said in an interview. “We know that the Ryan budget is very hostile toward federal employees. It would dramatically cut their effective pay. The Ryan budgets have always looked to federal employees as a piggy bank to be used to reduce the deficit rather than as an important resource to provide services to the American people.”
That pay cut would be in the form of a fiscal 2015 Ryan budget proposal to “increase the share of federal retirement benefits funded by the employee.” That would have increased the worker’s cost by 5.5 percent of salary with no increase in benefits.
It’s a “back door way to cut pay,” Van Hollen said. Ryan’s budget plans also would kill student loan reimbursements for federal employees and a retirement program for certain staffers.
In his fiscal 2012 spending plan, Ryan also proposed freezing federal pay for five years in his drive to “boost private-sector employment by slowing the explosive growth of the public sector” and reducing the number of staffers through attrition.
“The reforms called for in this budget aim to slow the federal government’s unsustainable growth, and reflect the growing frustration of workers across the country at the privileged rules enjoyed by government employees,” says Ryan’s fiscal year 2014 “Path to Prosperity,” the name of all his budget resolutions. “It reduces the public-sector bureaucracy, not through layoffs, but via a gradual, sensible attrition policy. By 2015, this reform would result in a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce and save $49 billion over ten years.”
Here’s more on Ryan and the workforce from the edited transcript of the Van Hollen interview:
Q: Ryan’s plans for federal workers generally did not become law because they were blocked by the Senate that was then controlled by the Democrats. Now that the Senate and the House are controlled by Republicans, are we likely to see his proposals adopted?
A: Fortunately, we have President Obama in the White House, and President Obama will stand up to these proposals that attack federal employee. Democrats still have the power to block things they don’t like in the Senate with the one exception being reconciliation of the budget. But we should raise the alarm because Paul Ryan will now have more power to implement the anti-federal-employee proposals that have been in his budget. We will fight them to the end on this, these issues, because federal employees have sacrificed enough and federal employees deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Q: How would you describe Ryan’s views toward the role of government?
A: We know he has sort of an anti-government viewpoint. If you look at his budgets, he doesn’t just come after federal employees. It seeks to dismantle the important federal investments in education and scientific research. It would put the burden of rising health-care costs on seniors on Medicare by turning Medicare into a voucher plan. So, I would say he falls into the [tax fighting] Grover Norquist school, which says that they want to shrink government down to where they can drown it in a bathtub.
Q: Is there a difference between his policy prescriptions and his personal views toward the federal workforce?
A: That’s a very difficult question to answer. On this issue I really can’t read his mind. I can only read his budgets and his budgets are very hostile to federal employees.
The Federal Diary requested an interview with Ryan. Watch this space in case he agrees.