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Published: Wednesday, 11/20/2002

Time to privatize

Regular readers of this newspaper know that The Blade did not endorse George W. Bush for president, and that we've found little to applaud during his nearly two years in office.

Thus some may be surprised that we find common ground with Mr. Bush in his determination to allow private sector competition for federal jobs in order to reduce the cost of government for everyone.

Over the years, while the labor movement in the private sector has stagnated, unions representing government employees have grown larger and more powerful. The result has been as predictable as cherry blossoms along the Potomac - government so expensive it is breaking the backs of America's great middle class.

So we enthusiastically embrace President Bush's proposal to allow the private sector to compete for almost half of this country's federal civilian jobs - 850,000 in all, white collar as well as blue. It is the most significant and encouraging recognition we've seen yet from the top levels of the federal administration - any administration - of the horrendously expensive operation government has become.

The Blade has endorsed its share of labor-backed Democrats over the years, and we do not view the President's initiative as an anti-union crusade, although some will mistake it as that.

Instead, the purpose is to make government leaner, more efficient, and less costly. Some advocates say the savings could amount to more than 30 percent. That would be a monumental break for Americans who are weary of the escalating cost of government. Why do this country's taxpayers always seem to be confronted with just two choices, neither of them good: a reduced level of services or higher taxes?

We've gotten to this sorry state in large part because of the inability of both political parties, especially the Democrats, to hold the line against the unions' demands.

The repudiation handed the Democrats at the Nov. 5 mid-term elections underscores a valid question: Why is it so hard for the Democrats to understand the struggle of average folks who remember the days when the public services they pay for had not yet been compromised?

For example, most homeowners remember a time, not so long ago, when trash collectors actually hauled the garbage cans out to the street, emptied them into the truck, and then replaced the containers where they found them. Now, property owners do their own lugging to and from the curb, and the trash collectors are better paid than ever.

Former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell stood up to the public employee unions in his city, and the unions hated him for it. On Nov. 5, he became Pennsylvania's next governor. The best endorsement a Democrat can get these days, it seems to us, would be to earn the disgust of the public sector unions.

President Bush clearly understands that a lot better than the Democrats do.

One of the most appealing aspects of the plan is that the President can implement it, after a 30-day comment period, without lengthy bureaucratic foot-dragging. Congressional approval isn't required, although the new Congress would approve it in any event.

This should not be a partisan issue. Even hard-pressed families who benefit from union contracts know that the cost of government has become too high for taxpayers to bear.

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