In their desire to return the nation to the Gilded Age, the Right has long targeted the one effective tool the rest of us have had--organized labor. They're getting a big assist by this economy, which makes too easy the job of drumming up resentment against anyone who might have a bit of job protection or--gasp--the promise of a pension to make the prospect of old age just a little less frightening. Just check out Glenn Beck to see it in action.
Now, that war is going to be waged in the House.
In January 2011, some number of Republican congressmen are planning to issue an ultimatum to states: There will be no additional aid, and you have to balance your budgets.
"I'm going to introduce a resolution when the new Congress begins, stating that the House will not bail out state budgets," says Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. "The message is: States, don't think the federal government is going to bail you out. Pay attention to this now."
McHenry is one of several congressmen who'll be empowered to demand transparency from states, especially on the shortfalls in their pension funds. This is something that public-employee unions see as a coordinated attack on their members, but Republicans say the unions are going to lose.
"The potential here," says McHenry, "is that we're facing a generational shift based on economic realities, based on our expectations for government, on what government does, and how government delivers services."
What could the pension fund people and the public sector unions be so worried about? Right-leaning Reuters columnist James Pethokoukis laid it out for them. If the states aren't bailed out, they're going to have to start cutting budgets. If there's total transparency about pension funds—and voters are already in the mood to shave the benefits and numbers of public workers—then that's where you can cut. Republicans might even be able to pass legislation that would allow states to declare bankruptcy, which would move the pension debate from politics to court, zapping all of the unions' leverage. "From the Republican perspective," wrote Pethokoukis, "the fiscal crisis on the state level provides a golden opportunity to defund a key Democratic interest group."
How would that work, exactly? House Republicans aren't talking about it yet. But Newt Gingrich, who those Republicans take seriously, laid it out clearly in a Nov. 11 speech to the Institute for Policy Innovation.
"I also hope the House Republicans are going to move a bill in the first month or so of their tenure to create a venue for state bankruptcy," said Gingrich, "so that states like California and New York and Illinois that think they're going to come to Washington for money can be told, you know, you need to sit down with all your government employee unions and look at their health plans and their pension plans and frankly if they don't want to change, our recommendation is you go into bankruptcy court and let the bankruptcy judge change it, and I would make the federal bankruptcy law prohibit tax increases as part of the solution, so no bankruptcy judge could impose a tax increase on the people of the states."
But at least millionaires got their tax cut (and GOP hero Gov. Chris Christie is pushing for more in New Jersey). That deal which excluded state aid, is going to make the Republicans' efforts even easier. It's going to be spending cuts from here on out, with labor, Social Security, and the other core Democratic issues and programs in their sites.