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What Causes Distrust of Government? Surprise! Mitch McConnell Blames Unions | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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What Causes Distrust of Government? Surprise! Mitch McConnell Blames Unions

Mitch McConnell. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

After spending the better part of a decade obstructing majority rule in the US Senate, and preventing the Congress from acting on fundamental issues that are of concern to the great mass of Americans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has figured out who is to blame for mistrust of government: public employees and their unions.

Declaring that he wants to open up a “serious national debate” about public-sector unions, the Kentucky Republican came out swinging at a Friday event with the American Enterprise Institute. “They are the reason so many state and local municipalities are flat broke,” he said of unions that represent public employees at the local, state and federal levels of government. “They’re behind the unsustainable expansion of public pensions. They’re a major problem.”

McConnell even went so far as to suggest that unions are to blame for inappropriate targeting for extra scrutiny of requests for charity exemptions from groups with Tea Party ties.

Referring to the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents Internal Revenue Service workers, the senator asked: “Why would we even expect a public employee—whose union more or less exists to grow the government—to treat someone who opposes that goal to a fair hearing?”

The senator has also suggested that President Obama’s criticisms of conservative groups influenced choices made by IRS employees.

But when he is pressed on the issue, McConnell backs off—trying to have it both ways with a line about how: “The president and his political allies encouraged this kind of bureaucratic overreach by their public comments. But that’s quite different from saying they ordered it. I think with regard to who’s actually responsible for it we need to find out, and that investigation will go on for quite some time.”

So why is McConnell bashing the NTEU?

As NTEU President Colleen Kelley told The Hill, the senator “has long…opposed the existence of public sector unions.” NTEU is not the only target of McConnell’s wrath. He’s generally upset with public-sector unions: the American Federation of Government Employees; the National Weather Service Employees Organization; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the International Association of Fire Fighters… you name it.

On this point, McConnell is blunt, declaring that “public sector unions are a fifty-year mistake.”

Charging that elected officials who accept the endorsements of public-sector unions—including, presumably, a number of his Republican colleagues—are responsible for “the fleecing” of taxpayers through a vast expansion of government, the Senate minority leader said: “That’s what happens when politicians start competing for the support of public-sector unions: they stop serving the interests of the people who elected them and start serving the interests of a government they’re supposed to be keeping in check.”

McConnell says that public-sector unions, such as the NTEU, don’t care about “how well government works, or how well it’s serving the public.”

In fact, the NTEU recently led the fight on a host of high-profile customs and border security issues, seeking to maintain operations at US airports, seaports and land border crossings in this period of sequestration. The union has fought to maintain the federal Food and Drug Administration’s “vital, complex public health responsibilities, that include safe food, medicine and medical devices, cannot be accomplished with this level of funding.” It has campaigned for cost savings by seeking approval of a plan to “reduce substantially the amount taxpayers have to pay in salary reimbursements for government contractors.” And it’s been in the forefront of efforts to protect whistleblowers and to promote transparency.

It is true that NTEU and other federal, state and local public-sector unions defend the interests of their members. That’s what labor organizations do. But when McConnell and his minions imagine that federal unions have no concern for the public interest, they miss the reality that these unions are often the loudest and most determined defenders of programs that most Americans consider to be vital.

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When they imagine that public-sector unions are the source of general frustration with dysfunctional government, politicians like McConnell neglect the polling that shows approval of Congress has fallen to historic lows. According to the Real Clear Politics summary of recent polls, only 14 percent of Americans approve of how Congress is doing its job. The disapproval rate is 78 percent. Noitably, when voters in states across the country were polled regarding their congressional representatives, the senator with the lowest net job approval rating was… Mitch McConnell.

John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney are the authors of the new book, Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books), about which Senator Bernie Sanders says: “With this book, John Nichols and Bob McChesney invite Americans to examine the challenges facing America in new ways, and to fully recognize the threat that the combination of big money and big media poses to the promise of self-government. They paint a daunting picture, rich in detail based on intense reporting and groundbreaking research. But they do not offer us a pessimistic take. Rather, they call us, as Tom Paine did more than two centuries ago, to turn knowledge into power. And they tell us that we can and must respond to our contemporary challenges as a nation by rejecting the Dollarocracy and renewing our commitment to democracy.”

Giant corporations are in agreement with Mitch McConnell when it comes to unions—Walmart just fired eleven striking workers who were organizing with OUR Walmart.

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