Curbing Unions, ‘Rolling Heads’ at Agencies and More From the Campaign Trail
One presidential candidate touted his plan to cut the federal workforce by 15 percent.
In recent weeks, the presidential race has seemed to focus almost exclusively on national security -- or whatever Donald Trump happens to be talking about. That has not completely prevented the candidates from discussing issues important to federal employees, however.
On Monday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was asked at a town hall meeting if he would support a federal law to ban government employee unions, according to the Conway Daily Sun. The senator -- seen by many as the leading contender to take on the establishment mantle in the race -- said public labor groups concerned him, noting that Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower also had expressed apprehension toward them. He said federal law could not impact public employees’ collective bargaining rights at the state or local level, but added he was “troubled” by unions at the federal level.
As evidence of unions’ undue influence, Rubio pointed to union opposition to legislation he introduced in the Senate that would make it easier to fire all employees at the Veterans Affairs Department. He said as president, he would address labor groups’ ability to block reform.
"We had this huge fight with the VA," Rubio said. There were people "who weren't doing a good job, and we couldn't fire them even if they didn't do a good job."
The freshman lawmaker was not the first presidential candidate to tackle the issue of federal unions this cycle; Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., who has since dropped his presidential bid, introduced a plan while still a candidate to eliminate federal unions.
Rubio was also not the first presidential hopeful to propose major changes to VA. Several contenders on both sides of the aisle have put forward plans to overhaul the embattled department. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., unveiled a seven-point plan in August, including provisions to ease the firing of employees. He noted federal employment should not be a “lifetime appointment.”
On Tuesday, Bush took his rhetoric a step further, telling a group in New Hampshire that “there will be heads rolling” out of VA in his administration.
At the Republican debate last week, candidates made frequent reference to all the ways they would rein in federal bureaucrats and the agencies for which they work. One contender, however, Gov. Chris Christie, N.J., took an opportunity to offer rare accolades to the federal workforce.
Christie decried the Obama administration for allowing the federal workforce to endure the hacks of personnel data maintained by the Office of Personnel Management, noting the workers have “sacrificed” for the American people.
The governor’s plaudits and sympathy for federal employees did not indicate he supported everything they do; Christie said that after his swearing in, he would institute a six-month freeze on federal agencies’ ability to issue new regulations. Federal overreach was making the United States “uncompetitive,” Christie said.
While presidential candidates traversed the early voting states to woo voters, some were forced back to Washington, D.C., to cast votes in the Senate on the fiscal 2016 omnibus spending bill that (mostly) boosted agency funding and staved off a shutdown. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted against the bill. Cruz said he was a “hell no” on the measure, while Paul wrote an op-ed in Time to denounce the omnibus’ heightened spending and highlight his own budget proposal that “does away with four cabinet departments and reduces the federal workforce by 15 percent.”
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is running for the Democratic nomination, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who dropped out of the race this week, voted for the spending bill. Rubio did not make the trip to Washington to cast a vote, but said the appropriations measure was “garbage.”