Susan Walsh / AP file
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, surrounded by Republican House members speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011.
Democrats and Republicans have spent the year fruitlessly debating who has the better jobs plan.
But no matter which party has controlled Congress or the White House, the federal government itself has remained a reliable job creator for the past ten years. That could change if Republicans succeed in passing a bill that they have put on the House calendar for the New Year.
A House panel approved legislation sponsored by freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) that would achieve budget savings by reducing the size of the federal workforce. Mulvaney's bill calls for attrition to reduce the federal civilian workforce by 10 percent by fiscal year 2015. And in order to try to ensure that the government doesn’t simply replace workers with contractors, the bill specifies that the amount spent on contract workers should be reduced by the same amount as the savings generated from shrinking the federal workforce.
The bill, which the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved on a nearly party-line vote, would cut an estimated $35 billion from 2012 to 2016.
That would mark a significant shift. The federal government easily outpaced the private sector as a job creator during the 2008-09 recession.
The number of private-sector jobs peaked at more than 115 million in January of 2008, and has since declined to 110 million as of last month -- a five percent drop.
By contrast, there were 14 percent more federal executive branch employees in September of 2011 than in September of 2007. There are now about 2.1 million of them.
The pace of federal job growth has slowed this year: the number of federal executive branch jobs grew by about 0.8 percent from September 2010 to September 2011. (By contrast, private-sector job growth, at a rate of 1.7 percent, has outpaced government job growth over the last year.)
Democrats have already complained that projected cuts to federal spending -- which they say helped prop up the economy during the throes of the recession – will do damage to the economy.
And now, Democrats argue, federal workers are being asked to unfairly shoulder the burden of the budget deficit.
“This bill unfairly targets the federal workforce. Although federal employees were not the cause of the financial crisis or our nation’s budget deficit, they are being asked to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden of solving our fiscal problems. Federal employees are already struggling through a two-year pay freeze that will deprive them of $60 billion over the next ten years," said Democratic members of the oversight panel.
But the GOP majority pointed out that cutting the federal headcount is in line with a recommendation made by the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission. And it cited Andrew Biggs, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who testified that if federal workers’ productivity had tracked the economy at large, “a workforce around 16 percent smaller than today’s could provide services comparable to those of federal employees in 1969.”