IRS-Gate: Time to End Government Unions

What did the President know, and when did he know it?

That is the question many are asking in the wake of the unfolding scandal at the I.R.S.  Certainly if Barack Obama directed – or even knew about – the agency’s harassment of conservative donors and Tea Party groups, his presidency would be in deep jeopardy, and rightly so.  In the American Spectator, Jeffrey Lord has been tracking what he considers may be a smoking gun:  A meeting between National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley and Obama at the White House on Wednesday, March 31st of 2010.  Lord notes the highly suspicious timing:

“The very next day after her White House meeting with the President, according to the Treasury Department’s Inspector General’s Report, IRS employees — the same employees who belong to the NTEU — set to work in earnest targeting the Tea Party and conservative groups around America.”

Time will tell if this is mere coincidence, or some nefarious plot emanating from the Oval Office to intimidate the President’s political adversaries into silence.  But even giving Obama the benefit of the doubt, and assuming that the I.R.S. agents acted on their own accord with no direction from the White House, the entire scandal – which James Taranto rightly characterizes as “a subversion of democracy on a massive scale” – exposes the grave danger that unionization of public employees poses to free institutions.

It is a danger that was recognized even by Big Labor’s great ally, President Franklin Roosevelt.  F.D.R. made his position clear when he wrote to  Luther Steward, President of the National Federation of Federal Employees, in 1937:

“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.”

Sadly, one of F.D.R.’s successors, President John F. Kennedy disagreed.  In 1962 J.F.K. issued Executive Order 10988, giving federal employees the power to bargain collectively.  Section 1. (a) of the Order reads in part:

“Employees of the Federal Government shall have, and shall be protected in the exercise of, the right, freely and without feel of penalty or reprisal, to form, join and assist any employee organization…”

And so here we are, with the employees of a vast and powerful federal agency, the I.R.S., represented by a powerful and politically active union, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).  As WPC contributor Julia Tavlas documented, the Democrat Party – and Barack Obama in particular – have been the beneficiaries of the political and financial support of the NTEU, whose members now admit they went after Obama’s political opponents with the full power of the federal government.

And why wouldn’t they?  It is the raison d’être of a union to expand itself by expanding its membership.  The Democrat Party is the party of more and bigger government, therefore more and more dues-paying union members.  Barack Obama was himself an especial boon to the Treasury Department and its tax collecting arm – the President’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), was granted the imprimatur of constitutionality by the Supreme Court largely because the Justices saw its broad penalizing powers as taxation.

And no wonder – Obamacare will vastly increase the power and scope of the I.R.S., which will be in charge of enforcing the mandate and will need hundreds of new agents to do so.  Don’t take my word for it:  As U.S. News & World Report reported back in 2011:

“The Internal Revenue Service says it will need an battalion of 1,054 new auditors and staffers and new facilities at a cost to taxpayers of more than $359 million in fiscal 2012 just to watch over the initial implementation of President Obama’s healthcare reforms.”

As frightening as it is, the I.R.S. scandal is but one example of the sinister cycle that plays out year after year at all levels of government:  A union representing government workers helps elect politicians who promise to increase the power and wealth of those government workers.  It is how government and bureaucracy grow, and, necessarily and consequently, how liberty fades.

Government is dangerous enough without unions continuously feeding its insatiable maw.  Time to break the cycle.

Time to end government unions for good.