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2016
In Leaked Talking Points, Clinton Vowed No Reform for Big Blue

As a whole, the Wiki-leaked Podesta emails have offered more court-of-Clinton gossipy intrigue than original insight into how the Democratic nominee might govern on the most pressing issues likely to confront the next administration. But the BuryPensions blog points us to an exception: A draft of Hillary Clinton’s prepared opening statement for her appearance before the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees in June 2015.

While some centrist Democrats during the Obama years, especially at the state and local level, have recognized the need for changes to the way public sector unions negotiate their pension benefits (which now face a shortfall north of $3 trillion nationwide) Clinton’s remarks reflect a dogged commitment to the status quo:

We need to protect the right to organize and bargain for public workers in particular.

I am fully committed to standing with you against the coordinated assault on public-sector unions led by Republicans and their corporate backers. […]

I’ll also work with you to advance a broad strategy on retirement security – one that protects defined benefit plans and defends Social Security and ensures that every worker can retire with dignity.

Of course, Clinton’s staff developed these talking points as the candidate was competing with a democratic socialist for the support of public sector union leaders, so it’s impossible to know how heartfelt her views actually are. But they are consistent with the hostility to civil service reform she has expressed throughout the campaign, most notably with respect to teachers and education. In any case, her actual views may not matter as much as the fact that she has now committed her administration to supporting an unreformed blue model system that delivers public services of deteriorating quality. (The AFSCME endorsed Clinton four months after her speech).

The Democratic rebellion of 2016 is over; Clinton was able to seize her party’s nomination after a drawn-out primary battle. But her previously undisclosed remarks to the union leaders highlight another potential route for an insurgency within the party: Instead of championing the aging union leaders who control blue state governments and donate to political campaigns, an innovative Democratic candidate could stand up for the predominantly Democratic constituencies that suffer the most when public services like education, welfare, and public safety are inadequate or unaccountable because of the civil service’s employment-for-life model.

Even if the politics initially cut her way, Clinton’s commitment to defined-benefit pensions and strong collective bargaining rights may be put to the test by arithmetic realities sometime during her tenure. Governments like Puerto Rico and Detroit and Stockton have already been forced into bankruptcy after spending decades indulging powerful unions and propping their systems up with deceptive accounting schemes. The next time the economy goes south and tax revenues fall, it’s plausible that larger governments—including Chicago—might judge it in their interest to file for Chapter Nine, and go hat-in-hand to the federal government seeking relief.

If the pension time bomb explodes in a big way, it won’t be enough for the federal government to simply bail out troubled municipalities and instruct them to go about business as usual all over again, especially in the likely event that Republicans control at least one house of Congress. If the Clinton administration is prepared to offer relief to cities driven to bankruptcy by public sector unions and can-kicking legislators, it should also have a clear idea of the kind of reforms it can ask for in return to make state and local governance more sustainable and reduce the likelihood that the crisis will come roaring back.

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  • Boritz

    “arithmetic realities”

    Just blame Bush(s), Reagan, Nixon, Eisenhower and Hoover. The nation is ready.

  • Fat_Man

    Clintons don’t do policy planning. They do interest group triangulation.

  • ljgude

    “The Democratic rebellion of 2016 is over.” Really? I don’t think so. Is Hillary experiencing all these headwinds – in both the primaries and the general – because the Republican party controls the press? Are Obama appointee Comey and the Weiner Carl Rove’s sock puppets? Is Putin orchestrating Hillary’s troubles by feeding a vociferously anti American Assange the juicy bits to dog her every step?
    I think that the left of the party led by Obama are trying to arrange it so that a weakened and wounded Hillary will be so damaged that she will be unable to govern effectively. It is a faction fight out of direct view – like two Tomcats in a burlap sack, while the Republican battle is like a melee of 17 mongrels being dominated by a Chow-Mastiff cross with a trick hairdo. I think we underestimate our Wilsonian idealist president and fail to notice that he has a Chicago style shadow. Remember how his rival for the Senate seat – nasty divorce details were leaked? He works indirectly, He sends drones, special forces. The Tea party has IRS trouble. I think that is the man’s pattern. All he has to do is disable the leaders of the Democratic center – the ageing Clintons – and the future of the party is his.

    • f1b0nacc1

      I rather doubt that Obama is that clever….though I do admit it is an entertaining theory. The problem is that Obama has no following…there are no Obamaites, which is why there was nobody to seriously challenge Hillary this year except for a 74 year old soap box crank who still amost did her in. If your scenario were accurate, there would be an ‘Obama candidate” (a protege or at least someone who was overtly tied to Obama) to challenge Hillary, and she certainly wouldn’t have had absolutely no opposition for the past 8 years as she built up the mechanisms for this year’s run. Finally Obama could not have known until the last 8-10 months that Trump would actually win the nomination, so a badly damaged Hillary could just have easily lost to a stronger Republican (she may yet lose to Trump), which would tend to undercut any plans he might have.

      Finally, if Obama really wanted control of the party, why such a complex plan? It would have been simple enough to set up Hillary for a real disaster while she was at State, then sit back and let her sink, rather than mobilize the resources of government to protect her. I am reminded of Jeeves, who when asked his opinion of one of Bertie Wooster’s harebrained schemes (and I do not mean to suggest your analysis is harebrained, I apologize if I gave that impression) suggested that it was too vulnerable to various imponderables. This is wonderful in hindsight, but it implies foresight and predictability that I simply don’t see being viable.

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