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Does Mitt Romney want to cut jobs for police, firefighters, and teachers?

A new ad from the Obama reelection campaign charges just that, while Mitt Romney calls the idea 'completely absurd.' They can't both be right.

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That’s why Governor Walker distanced himself from Romney’s remarks in an appearance Sunday on CBS’s "Face the Nation." His crackdown “allowed us to protect firefighters, police officers, and teachers. That’s not what I think of when I think of big government.”

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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Now, Romney is literally correct to say that Washington doesn’t hire firefighters, etc. Those are local or state employees.

But Obama’s stimulus bills contained billions in subsidies for state and local government to keep their employees on the job. Much of that stimulus spending has run out, which is one reason why public sector employment is declining.

That’s what we think this whole economic discussion of recent days is mostly about. Obama would prefer that Congress pass more stimulus spending to help heat up public sector hiring. Romney thinks that is failed Keynesianism that just runs up debt. This is a basic distinction between the Democratic and Republican parties.

In closing, we’ll make a couple of other points. Walker may not think of firefighters, police officers, and teachers as part of big government, but they are. As liberal economist Paul Krugman pointed out Tuesday on his blog, “teachers” and “protective services” together account for the majority of state and local employment.

However, despite public sector job losses, the unemployment rate for government workers is low, writes conservative American Enterprise Institute fellow Marc Thiessen. It’s just 4.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Contrast this with the unemployment rate for construction, which is 14.2 percent, or with the rate for leisure and hospitality services, which is 9.7 percent.

“If the rest of Americans enjoyed the same unemployment rate as government workers, Obama would be cruising to reelection,” writes Thiessen in a Washington Post opinion piece.

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