[I drafted this when a shutdown appeared nearly certain. As we know now, the shutdown was averted - this time. The debt hits its current ceiling around mid-May, and the 2012 budget cycle is just starting, providing ample opportunity for more brinksmanship. And even though no federal worker missed an hour of work, about half a week of work was lost to shutdown prep and general hysteria. Meanwhile, we learned who was "essential" - um, make that "exempt," as though we're too dumb to understand that this is the 2011 euphemism for "essential" - and what a farce the whole shutdown is. 97% of the Veterans Administration was designated exempt, compared with 23% of my humble agency. Trash pickup for the District of Columbia was to be furloughed, but the office of DC Shadow Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton - an office with no voting rights, as we are continually reminded - was all exempt. Only in DC is a value system so inverted. Anyway, this is the unedited version, for your enjoyment. - RJ]
Dear Congress and President Obama:
Congratulations, you shut down the government.
Now it’s time to grow up and behave like adults. Sorry if this letter involves tough love, but someone has to do it.
House Republicans, I’m sympathetic to your argument that, as a nation, we’re broke. We are spending money at an alarming rate, racking up debt to countries such as China that may not exactly have our best interests at heart. (Of course, you guys weren’t all that keen on fiscal responsibility in the Bush years, but better a late conversion to fiscal sanity than never.) However, you’re arguing about chump change. When I read that the Democrats have accepted the idea of $20 billion or so in cuts for the rest of the fiscal year, and you’re demanding $40-50 billion, in a year when the deficit will be well over a trillion dollars again, you seem pretty childish. Sure, $20 billion here, $20 billion there, and soon you’re talking about real money. Nonetheless, you got them to accept the principle of cutting, not increasing, the budget, and the hard work, involving the debt limit and next year’s budget, is ahead of you. You want to shut everything over roughly half a percent of the budget? Furthermore, as much as many of you were elected on a promise to cut and cut big, it may have escaped your notice that your guys are in the minority in the Senate – that annoying Reid man is still invited to the Big People table – and Mr. Obama is still in the White House. You’re not going to get your way in that environment. Grow up.
Senate Democrats, you had close to a year in which your party held both houses of Congress and the White House, and you couldn’t come up with a Fiscal 2011 budget. The best you could do was a big-ass, omnibus Continuing Resolution, effectively punting the problem. Way to go. Then things didn’t work out so well last November, making it harder than before to reach a deal. Compounding your childish behavior, you haven’t bothered to come up with a budget proposal yourselves. The House managed to pass a budget early on (H.R. 1) that you had time to denounce, and the House put forth another CR late in the game that would have funded military spending for the rest of the year, and you managed to denounce that, too. Hell, you managed to find time to criticize Rep. Ryan’s 2012 budget proposal, which seems as though you’re getting ahead of yourselves, as you haven’t managed to pass a single budget for 2011. In addition to demagoguery over the size of the proposed cuts, you’re also up in arms about specific cuts, such as taking away a small fraction of NPR’s operating budget and not funding abortion mill Planned Parenthood. You call those cuts “ideological,” but isn’t it equally ideological to insist on funding for those programs? Senator Reid, you made yourself look especially foolish with your whining about federal funding for “cowboy poetry.” You make it sound as though every dollar that the government spends is absolutely essential. Your colleagues have paraded through the Senate a bunch of overpaid Hollywood actors to lobby for more funding for the arts, as though Alec Baldwin’s enormous salary needs taxpayer subsidies. Although you have, in principle (remember, you haven’t passed anything), agreed to $20 billion or so in cuts, you’re willing to shut it all down over another half a percent? Really? All of you, grow up.
And President Obama, I haven’t forgotten about you. Your leadership style, such as it is, is to disappear, pretend to let Congress work it out, make vague threats, and show up at the last moment to try to steer the car out of the ditch (to steal your overused and inapropos metaphor). You did it in the health care debate (“Public option? No public option? ’Sall good.”), and you’re doing it again here. You’re making campaign stops, for God’s sake, while Congress seems hopelessly deadlocked. Some leadership. Like the Senate Democrats, you, too, seem to think we’re spending too little, not too much, and can’t find a thing to cut. I realize that spending is more fun than cutting – who wants to be the party pooper who says we’re broke? (though, in fact, you were one of those who sounded the alarm over President Bush’s (much lower) out-of-control spending) – but, once again, be an adult about it. Heck, do it for your own reelection chances, if that’s what it takes: a whole bunch of people seemed mighty upset about the deficit last November. It might be good politics as well as good policy to pretend you care, too.
So guys, there is plenty of blame to go around. Now let’s get to the second part of my little heart-to-heart. In your game of chicken, you’re shafting a lot of people. Lest you think I’m whining about my own finances, let me assure you that I can ride this out financially a lot longer than you can ride this out politically. In a protracted furlough, I might have to retire a few months later than planned, but I’m not missing any mortgage payments. Many other people aren’t as fortunate. In fact (and Democrats, you guys might take special notice of this), the poorer one is, the more likely that a furlough causes real financial distress. And you’re shafting the very people you depend on to get your work done. You may crow about Social Security, or universal health care, but it’s the federal workforce that actually implements the policies. Presumably, you want bright, energetic people to want to work for you, not those who can’t find work elsewhere. Don’t piss off your employees.
Of course, there are a lot of indirect casualties from a shutdown as well. The chronically-underfunded Metro system will lose a substantial fraction of riders. The restaurants and shops near federal offices will take a big hit in business. I’m told Social Security checks will still go out, but no one will be available to start new Social Security payments. National parks will be shut – not a major loss, but I presume you guys think having national parks is a good thing. DC’s trash won’t be picked up – does that sound appealing? Let’s hope no warm front comes through, eh?
To sum up: put on your big girl panties and fund us. Then you can get back to what you do best, naming post offices and issuing non-binding resolutions.
Thanks for your time.
Your long-time employee,