Commentary by James H. Shott
As last week progressed the prospect of a government shutdown loomed, and some Americans had a hissy-fit. Demagogues did their level best to make it seem as if the world would end if the government was shut down, although not long ago a snowstorm in DC shut things down for a couple of days, and no one seemed to notice.
The Heritage Foundation provided some insight on just what a government shutdown really means: “During the last shutdowns, only 20 percent of Washington-area federal contracts were suspended, as were visa and passport applications, bankruptcy cases, and firearm applications. About 368 national parks closed. But the Department of Defense, power grid maintenance, border patrol, Coast Guard, air traffic controllers, inpatient and emergency outpatient medical care, and other vital services continued.”
Not so bad, really. The world didn’t stop spinning. Some inconveniences, to be sure, but you know what? Sometimes stuff happens, and we have to behave like adults when it does.
Still, even though our government is grossly inefficient, wastes tons of taxpayer money, and needs a major overhaul, there is something unseemly about having it “shut down.”
Customarily, government operates year-to-year on revenue/spending plan, a budget, the process for which is guided by a set of procedures laid out in the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, beginning with the President’s annual budget request, then action by Congress.
But not for FY2011.
Ask Congressional Democrats why no budget was enacted. At the time it should have been proposed, debated and approved they held a solid majority in both houses of Congress. They must have been busy doing other things.
So, dereliction of duty by the Congressional majority means the government has kept running through a series of short-term Continuing Resolutions that fund government functions, essential and non-essential alike, and whether we can afford them or not. Along the way many members of the Democrat majorities were replaced in the November election by new faces that ran on fiscal irresponsibility, because voters understand that we must dramatically cut spending, and said so loudly on Election Day.
Congressional Democrats, however, still haven’t gotten the message and would prefer not to make any cuts. When pressed they grudgingly agreed to cut spending by $38 billion, which sounds like a lot. But this year we will spend $1.65 trillion more than we collect, and a cut of $38 billion is comparable to cutting 38 cents off of a $165 invoice.
And for some reason, everyone is celebrating.
And after having created this crisis by not passing a budget, Congressional Democrats like DC Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and New York Rep. Louise Slaughter adopted hysteria and hyperbole as their mode of response to Republican efforts to tie spending cuts to the Continuing Resolution to keep the government running. Rep. Norton shrieked, “We are absolutely outraged. This is the functional equivalent of bombing innocent civilians.” And Rep. Slaughter: “In 1994, people were elected simply to come here to kill the National Endowment for the Arts, now they’re here to kill women,” she ranted. (Reports that they held their breath and stomped their feet could not be confirmed.)
Did alien beings take control of these two women? In response to these absurd performances, a corps (not corpse!) of psychiatrists has been dispatched to the Nation’s Capital to try to calm down the frenzied pair, or failing that, find a couple of spare beds for them in the nervous hospital.
Such gross exaggerations are out of bounds and likely reflect the disdain with which these elected public servants regard their bosses’ demand for spending cuts.
What we see today is the predictable, perhaps unavoidable result of government giving money to segments of the private sector, a situation where government largesse has reached an unsustainable level, and must be stopped. And the reaction of the recipients of that largesse and their government enablers is loud, angry and, as illustrated above, sometimes irrational. It would have been better to not have given these hand-outs in the first place than to have to stop giving them because they are not economically feasible.
And that would have been the constitutionally appropriate course. Government should not subsidize private sector entities; not oil companies, green energy companies, farmers, Planned Parenthood, banks, public broadcasting, or anything else. That’s what is wrong here, and such imprudence was not contemplated by the Founders, who figured future Americans would be smarter than we have turned out to be.
However, Democrats and Republicans were able to find a funding plan that was mutually acceptable and ward off a shutdown for a few days, leaving the details of funding the government through September 30 for this week. Unfortunately, the spending cuts agreed to are far too modest to make a noticeable dent in the deficit.
No sensible person believes we can continue spending billions more than we take in. We have to stop that, and immediately begin to reduce spending to a sensible level, like 18 percent of GDP. That would produce a budget of $2.63 trillion, and if we can’t run a constitutionally proper and efficient government on that amount, we ought to ask Great Britain to take us back.
Cross-posted from Observations