By Vicki Needham - 06/21/13 02:42 PM EDT
IRS agents were taking cues from union leaders when they decided to target the Tea Party, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell charged on Friday.
"When the head of the union that represents unionized IRS workers publicly vilifies the Tea Party, is it any wonder that members of her union would get caught targeting them?" the Kentucky Republican said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
McConnell said the growth of public sector unions has created "an inherent and undeniable tension between those who believe in limited self-government and those who stand to benefit from its growth."
He called for a "serious national debate" about the unions, arguing that their existence is a big part of why there is so little trust in government.
"They are the reason so many state and local municipalities are flat broke," he said. "They’re behind the unsustainable expansion of public pensions. They’re a major problem."
McConnell said he agreed with the assessment that "public sector unions are a 50-year mistake,” and said their creation has led to a “fleecing” of taxpayers through a vast expansion of government.
"That’s what happens when politicians start competing for the support of public-sector unions — they stop serving the interests of the people who elected them and start serving the interests of a government they’re supposed to be keeping in check."
The president of the largest federal workers union said McConnell’s remarks were a rehash of his well known positions.
"There was no new information in the remarks today by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employers Union.
"Sen. McConnell has long professed these views and opposed the existence of public sector unions."
The IRS scandal has put the actions of federal workers squarely in the spotlight, with top officials spending the past several weeks trying to explain the inappropriate targeting of conservative groups at a slew of hearings on Capitol Hill.
McConnell said the revelation this week that IRS employees received $70 million in bonuses is a perfect example of how the unions are corrupting government.
"The IRS union is thumbing its nose at the American people. It’s telling them in the clearest terms possible that it doesn’t care about this scandal, or how well government works, or how well it’s serving the public," he said.
"All it cares about is helping union workers get theirs. It’s pure arrogance, and it reflects a sense of entitlement better suited to an aristocracy than to a nation of constitutional self-government."
While McConnell stopped short of saying President Obama ordered the targeting of conservative groups, he said Democrats “encouraged” the IRS with their public statements.
"The president and his political allies encouraged this kind of bureaucratic overreach by their public comments," McConnell said.
"But that's quite different from saying they ordered it. I think with regard to who's actually responsible for it we need to find out, and that investigation will go on for quite some time."
Bernie Becker contributed.
— This story was updated at 2:30 p.m.