Joe the contractor

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Congressional spouses are people too. Probably. So when Republican Congressman Joe Heck dissolved his company after winning election in 2010, his wife, who worked for the company, did what other laid off people have done, and went on unemployment for awhile in 2011.

Politico reported Lisa Heck’s unemployment compensation last week. Heck promptly issued a statement suggesting Lisa Heck was no different from any other American who lost a job and applied for unemployment, so move along nothing to see here.

There is no denying that Lisa Heck is indeed no different than any other American whose spouse is a member of Congress with a $174,000 salary and some of the most lavish employment benefits in the developed world.

But this really isn’t about her.

One of the reasons Joe Heck dissolved his company after the election is because it would have presented a conflict of interest. Specialized Medical Operations Inc. provided training and consulting services to law enforcement, local government emergency responders and the military. Heck, the Republican who rode the virulently anti-government Tea Party wave to Congress, was … a government contractor.

Like every Republican everywhere, Heck has asserted that “government doesn’t create jobs.” But it created his (and his wife’s).

Heck and his apologists might argue that his company was, well, different, since its consulting and training services focused on saving the lives of our brave forces in the field and safeguarding Americans if attacked by weapons of mass destruction. The company’s website, which was still live as of earlier this week, is festooned with an eagle in a star-bordered military-looking seal, and numerous pictures of troops shooting at evildoers and healing their injured comrades. Heck was a government contractor. But he was that variety of government contractor of which Republicans are particularly fond: a defense contractor.

Apart from Democratic-linked micro-scandals like Solyndra, routine Republican complaints about “wasteful government spending” rarely extend to government contracts with the holy sacred private sector anyway. When Heck blathers, as he does on his campaign website, about “extravagant government spending” and “cracking down on fraud and abuse” and “terminating wasteful programs that are costing the taxpayers,” he’s probably referring to things like Social Security, which Heck has called a “Ponzi scheme,” or health and social services for the poor, the old and the disabled, which Heck has voted to gut not once but twice by supporting the infamous Ryan plan. When Heck wrings his hands over “extravagant” government spending, he likely does not envision “cracking down” on companies like Specialized Medical Operations Inc.

Perhaps he should. The Project on Government Oversight, a non-partisan research group, reports that federal spending on private contractors has more than doubled over the last decade, and the $300 billion spent on government-contracted services accounts for more than one-fourth of all federal non-entitlement spending. “Much of the increase,” POGO notes, “was the result of the call to ‘reduce’ the size of government.”

The POGO study also found that on average, billing rates to private services contractors were 83 percent higher than what government employees earn for doing the same work. “As Congress and President Obama struggle to find ways to reduce the federal deficit, one of the first places they should look is the bloated federal contracting system,” said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian.

Joe Heck’s business may have reflected one of the American economy’s most vibrant sectors — extravagant government contracting. When it comes to cutting wasteful government spending, the single most significant act of Joe Heck’s career may turn out to be dissolving his own company.

“Heck pads six-figure, taxpayer-funded salary with unemployment benefits,” Nevada Democrats declared upon the news of Lisa Heck getting unemployment checks. On at least one occasion, Heck voted against extending unemployment benefits, the Democrats gleefully noted.

The Democratic statement was titled “Hypocrisy Alert.” But Webster’s defines hypocrisy as “pretending to be what one is not,” which suggests deliberate deception to mask an accurate self-realization of what one is.

Heck is a mostly unimpressive opportunist, neither brilliant nor a dolt, willing to bend whichever way the wind is blowing — and echo whatever pointless claptrap seems fashionable at the time — if it will further his ambition.

But does he know it?

Or when he babbles anti-government piffle even though virtually his entire “private sector” (to use the term loosely) career was dependent on government spending, does he just not get it?

Blasting Heck and for that matter most right-wingers as hypocrites, though common overestimates their insight into the relationship between their beliefs and their actions. Heck and his Tea Party allies aren’t practicing hypocrisy as much as they are suffering from a cognitive dissonance that allows them to rationalize away or ignore facts that contradict their spiel.

It works, politically — especially when Democrats lack the nerve and/or the insight to expose the fact-free fallacies underlying right-wing pop ideology, as seems to be the case with Heck’s opponent this year.

But however pedestrian his opponent, Heck’s victory in the fall contributes to continued Tea Party control of the House. Whether Heck is a hypocrite or just shallow, the pernicious policy ramifications of his reelection would be the same. So let’s hope that if and when his wife wants a job, she finds one. And let’s hope Heck loses his.

HUGH JACKSON blogs at the Las Vegas Gleaner (www.lavegasgleaner.com) and contributes to KSNE Channel 3.