Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Chickens are Coming Home to Roost


You have to pardon me for not blogging extensively this weekend.  I’m spending the weekend the same way I’ve spent much of every weekend during the last 2 1/2 months – working on my job with the federal government.  It’s the same way I spent this past Wednesday – in the office, just like a number of my colleagues, even though the government was officially “closed” because of inclement weather.  And it’s the same way I will spend part of tomorrow.  Just doing my “cushy government job.”

The truth is that plenty of devoted civil servants regularly put in long, long hours working on the country’s business.   Nearly all of us are about to get a pay cut ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending upon how long this stupid “sequestration” situation is going to last.  And this pay cut – otherwise known as a “furlough” – is on top of having to endure years without a cost-of-living increase.  That’s the life of being a federal employee these days. 
Does America care about the lack of cost of living increases and impending furloughs for federal workers?  Or about the impending cuts to services that the federal government offers to the public?  I suspect most of America aren’t the least bit concerned.  In fact, roughly half of those who do care are probably happy about this development.   They have been bombarded over the radio and TV with the notion that cutting the pay of lazy, overpaid bureaucrats is surely a good thing, and trimming a bloated government is long overdue.   That’s the hard-right view of sequestration.  The amazing thing to me is how our progressive Democratic President agreed to this idea in the first place.

If I had a better sense of humor, perhaps I would view this whole sequestration situation as a big joke.  Supposedly, our President went down this road because he thought sequestration would be so asinine, because of the indiscriminate nature of the program cuts, that we couldn’t possibly allow it to happen.  Accordingly, we would by necessity come together and figure out a sensible way to trim the National Debt.    Apparently, he was sufficiently impressed by the rationality and moderation of our Congress that he was sure they would reach an agreement on how to deal with the budget.  And now that we’re looking those cuts in the face, what is the President doing?  What else but playing the blame game.  Allegedly, the situation is entirely the fault of the Republicans for not compromising with the President’s view of debt reduction.  I have no doubt that if I were to watch MSNBC in the evening, which I haven’t lately, I would hear pundit after pundit place the entire blame for this mess on Republican shoulders.  Personally, I’m not buying it.  A pox on both their houses, I say.  

Folks, we are finally reaping the consequences of being led by out-of-touch politicians who work in a thoroughly polarized political environment.  In this type of situation, we should expect irrational outcomes, and anyone who counts on rationality is the one who is truly clueless.  When the system works – that’s the real shocker.  For those of us who have been watching our political process for a number of decades, what’s particularly fascinating is how much worse it is now than it used to be in the mid-20th century.  When America was at its peak, our government worked efficiently.  We had strong, respected leaders in the executive branch, and the legislative branch was run by moderates.  Now?   We have a professor in the executive branch who doesn’t seem to understand the climate in which he operates, except on a theoretical basis.  And as for the legislative branch, that is increasingly populated by loopy ideologues and others who fear that they must pander to extremists or risk losing their seats.  Together, they’re about to perform surgery on the federal budget using a butcher knife instead of a scalpel.   Trust me – we will all pay for this insanity and not just federal employees.  

            The greatest irony of all is that there truly is fat to cut in our government, but we’re just not going to concentrate on cutting that fat; we’ll cut the lean, too.  Think about all the federal programs that are luxury items we can afford to live without.   And think about all the humongous outlays that go to government contractors who charge us for workers who cost a multiple of what they would cost if the government hired them directly.  Reflect, too, about all the retired-in-place employees who never seem to lose their jobs.  Every agency has them, and some have a lot of them, but they’ll do no worse under the sequestration rules than the most productive employees in the government.   

            If there was a good deal to be had, the time to broker it was around the New Year before our government decided to increase taxes on some high-income households.  After that point, the GOP could legitimately say that they compromised on taxes already, and now it is time for the Democrats to compromise on expenses.  In reality, we still need plenty of new revenues – in the form of gutting these absurd loopholes in the tax code.  Then again, changes are also needed in programs like Social Security and Medicare, which are facing one hell of a shock to the system as more and more of my fellow baby boomers retire.
            Both sides ought to have the will to compromise.  Right now, though, neither side can resist playing politics.  So what do we have?   Sacrifices that are NOT equitably shared.  As one of those who will bear more than his share of the brunt, let me just say that I’m disgusted by the politicians who are running this country into the ground.  
            In spite of those politicians, I still plan on getting the rest of my work done this weekend.   If some of my colleagues decide to approach their jobs more apathetically, however, I don’t plan on blaming them.  Not these days.  As the old saw goes, “you get what you pay for.”   And if America is apathetic about how much they’re paying for government services, don’t be surprised if they get their money’s worth – and no more.

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