Conservatives need to define what they consider rich

By Matt Watson

Republicans scored victories across the U.S. in November 2010 running on a platform of fiscal conservatism and vowing to cut deficits at the state and national level. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has gained national attention in recent weeks for his proposal to do away with public employee unions. Governors in Ohio and Michigan look to him for inspiration.

If Republicans honestly cared about deficits, they could have done something when Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush was president. Instead, they spent billions like it was going out of style. Going after teachers but letting wealthy bankers off the hook proves this newfound passion against debt is more of a political move than an economic one.

When the Bush tax cuts were set to expire on Jan. 1, Republicans were whipped into a frenzy to ensure they continue for people making over $250,000 a year. Although the Congressional Budget Office estimated allowing these cuts on the wealthy to continue would add $75 billion to the deficit over the next two years, the GOP argued that with the economy still sour, people needed all the money they could get. Plus, they asked, is a quarter of a million dollars all that much money?

“Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is not rich,” FOX News contributor Tracy Byrnes said in October 2010. “For a family of four sending kids to college, it actually is close to poverty.”

According to the National Education Association, the average Wisconsin teacher makes $50,000 a year, plus medical benefits. If Byrnes’ logic is correct, then teachers must be begging for food on the streets. Obviously Republicans and their Fox News public relations arm need a reality check.

For every angle of the argument, conservatives fall into the hypocrisy trap. In 2009, when the Obama administration wanted to cap the salaries of Wall Street CEOs whose companies had received Troubled Asset Relief Program funds, Republicans cried foul and said doing so would drive talent away from the field.

If teachers’ salaries are lowered and bargaining rights are taken away, wouldn’t that drive talented people away from teaching? Is banking more important than educating America’s youth? Our students need to be competitive in the ever-shrinking global economy, and that won’t happen by cutting education budgets.

When there was debate regarding taking away the bonuses of investment bankers from companies that received TARP funds, conservatives blasted the idea, saying the contracts signed were already in place. Teachers also sign contracts guaranteeing their salary and benefits, but Republicans seem to feel this is different. After all, said Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, investment bankers work really hard, and teachers only work nine months a year.

There is no doubt that something must be done about states’ deficits. Out of control spending will compromise our economic vitality. However, Walker’s plan to decimate teachers unions’ right to bargain collectively for wages and benefits is a step too far.

“In these tough economic times, we’ve all got to be in it together,” Walker said in a news conference Feb. 18. So how are the wealthy sacrificing? If their taxes had been raised from 36% to 39% when the cuts were supposed to expire, maybe they couldn’t have taken that extra vacation, or perhaps passed up on buying the Lamborghini they’ve had their eyes on. Cutting from a 5-digit salary is the difference between being able to pay the mortgage or fix a broken car.

Generally, people go into the field of education because they have a passion for it and want to make a positive imprint on the next generation. I haven’t heard of many teachers who do it for the money. Shouldn’t we show them a little extra reward by holding them to equal standards as the bankers who destroyed the global economy?

It is true public employees should share in the sacrifice the public sector has had to make in recent years. States cannot afford to continue giving teachers raises when the state’s tax base has eroded. This is why the teachers unions in Wisconsin have agreed to wage and benefit cuts. That wasn’t enough for the new governor, though.

If these are the Republican’s values, so be it. That isn’t what they’re selling, though. Their campaign ads portray them as the people’s party that stands for personal freedom and liberty. Translation: the party of big business and the wealthy. America needs to wake up and see through the smokescreen. These Tea Party governors aren’t concerned about deficits; they’re looking out for their own kind.