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Feature Stories February 9, 2012  RSS feed

Wisconsin Pol Says Federal Workers Should Contribute

Wants Them To Chip In On Healthcare
by Scott Bauer

(AP) Republican Tommy Thompson has indicated that federal workers should pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits, just like Wisconsin state workers were forced to do last year.

Thompson said increasing benefits for federal employees to more closely resemble what comparable workers in the private sector pay would be one of the first things he proposes if elected to the U.S. Senate.

The announcement marks an attempt by Thompson to appeal to conservative voters who backed Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal forcing state workers to pay more. That measure, passed last year, went even farther by ending all collective bargaining rights except over wage increases no greater than inflation. Federal government workers do not collectively bargain.

Thompson worked closely with Wisconsin public unions during his 14 years as governor, but in his bid for the Senate he’s taken a more hardline approach and come out strongly in support of Walker’s proposal that generated massive protests and made the state the center of the national fight over union rights.

Thompson said he would also support Republican-backed legislation that would freeze federal worker pay.

“We simply can no longer tolerate federal employee pay and benefits that exceed what the taxpayers earn,” Thompson said in a statement.

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, who is challenging Thompson for the GOP nomination, also supports freezing federal worker pay and in November proposed cutting the federal workforce by 15 percent. Last week Neumann identified 92 federal programs to cut or eliminate that he said would save $2 trillion.

“We’re glad Tommy Thompson is following our lead,” said Neumann’s campaign manager Chip Englander.

Neumann, who has the backing of the national Club for Growth, has repeatedly positioned himself as the more conservative candidate in the race. Thompson’s spokesman Darrin Schmitz said as governor Thompson had a long record of pushing conservative reforms, including implementing the qualified economic offer that attempted to limit allowable teacher pay increases.

Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald is also running for the GOP nomination. U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is the only Democrat in the race. Neither of their campaigns had immediate comment on the Thompson proposal.

A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee accused Thompson of attempting to pander to the right wing of the Republican Party, pointing out that as governor Thompson signed a bill in 1999 that added an estimated $5.5 billion in pension benefits for state workers.

“What a typical politician, talking out of both sides of his mouth,” said DSCC spokesman Matt Canter.

Thompson’s press release unveil- ing his proposal cited a Congressional Budget Office report released Tuesday that detailed disparities between health and retirement benefits received by federal workers and those in the private sector.

That report found that the average benefits package for federal workers, including health insurance and a defined benefit pension plan, costs the government about 48 percent more than for private sector workers in comparable jobs.

The federal government employs about 2.3 million civilian workers, or about 1.7 percent of the U.S. workforce. Total compensation for civilian federal workers costs roughly $200 billion a year. Civilian worker pay has been frozen for the past two years in response to exploding budget deficits.

Thompson didn’t reveal how much he wanted to raise pension and health care contributions, saying only they should be more in line with comparable workers in the private sector. Schmitz said more details would be released later.