Indulge me in a quick counter-factual.
Imagine that Al Gore was now president and he, not George W. Bush, had sent up a proposal for a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Only in the Gore proposal all employees of the DHS would get free health care insurance, dental insurance, generous long-term care coverage, and copious allowances for repetitive stress injuries.
I assume editorialists would see this for what it was: a craven and disreputable attempt to bootstrap in the Democrats’ workplace policy agenda under the guise of a critical homeland security measure. The White House would be cynically calculating that they could snag an interest group goody on the sly since Republicans wouldn’t have the stomach to vote against. It wouldn’t matter if you happened to support universal health, long-term care insurance, and ergonomics regs. The White House just should not use the terrorism card to muscle through an ideological wish-list that it lacks the courage to push on its own terms.
So why no similar outrage at the Bush White House for doing just the same thing?
The White House is insisting on a Homeland Security bill with virtually all the civil service and collective bargaining rights of federal employees stripped out of it? The excuse of course is that the DHS is just too important to pussyfoot around with the sort of loafers who slide by under the civil service regime. But this argument — though superficially plausible — doesn’t bear much scrutiny, especially since these protections now apply to people doing just the same kinds of work throughout the federal government.
Maybe federal employees shouldn’t get the double protection of unions and civil service status. It’s not an unreasonable argument. If that’s what the president believes, he should send up a separate bill abolishing the civil service system. What he’s doing here is just using the crushed, maimed and devastated of 9/11 to prop up Grover Norquist’s federal workplace policy agenda.