How Federal Workers Became the New Welfare Queens

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The House Oversight Committee today signed off on a bill that would lead to the termination of any federal employee delinquent on federal taxes. With just the right amount of loopholes, the bill hits a conservative sweet spot: perceived abuse by government employees, the new "welfare queens."

Introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the bill, H. R. 249, would require termination of any federal employee against whom the IRS has filed a lien. With some exceptions: It wouldn't apply to members of the military, or to those who can claim financial hardship (though the measure requires that such scofflaws be counted and reported back to Congress). It applies, in short, to postal workers, employees of any executive branch agency, or any employee of the legislative branch. An almost identical bill passed the House last year, but died in the Senate.

Chaffetz generally credits his politics to Ronald Reagan, not uncommon for a Republican politician. But unlike many of his peers, Chaffetz had the opportunity to meet and work with the former president. In the early 1990s, Reagan signed on as a motivational speaker with Utah-based Nu Skin, a skincare company for which Chaffetz worked as a spokesperson. (Which couldn't have been an easy job.) When he left, Reagan gave Chaffetz an autograph, a pair of cufflinks, and a political philosophy.

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The bill that passed committee today fits the Reagan mold — perhaps most specifically, the president's attack on abuse of government resources. It was Reagan that introduced the concept of the "welfare queen" to the American public. In conservative circles, that concept — that some decent percentage of government payment recipients are lazy freeloaders — has been extended to government employees, as Jonathan Cohn noted in 2010. (It's worth noting, as that article from The Times does, that Reagan's perception of fraud was wildly overstated.)

The response to H.R. 249 has been eager. It appeared near the top of the Drudge Report, as a link to the Daily Caller, which was one of the first outlets to report on today's committee vote. The site's commenters are rapturous. "It's about friggin time !!!!!!!," says John. While conceding a point made by Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings — who notes that tracking and firing such employees incurs costs in staff time and makes it more unlikely the debt would be repaid — commenter Mark Abramson offers, "This is not a bad idea, especially if the employee is dead weight (which is common in the federal government)."

The commenters are less excited about a massive loophole in the bill, one that protects perhaps the least popular segment of government. Some federal employees who are exempted under H.R. 249 are the ones who got elected to be there. Members of Congress, including Chaffetz, would not have to live under Chaffetz's proposed rule.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.