(First published April 7, 2011)
Posturing Republicans and petulant Democrats continue to snap away at each other over the budget gap like two spoiled, bitchy Pomeranians. Meanwhile, thousands of soldiers who were foolish enough to think that the craven elected officials in Congress would stand behind them no matter what, continue to serve under the threat of having their paychecks withheld while the very country they’re fighting to protect threatens to collapse under the weight of a ping-pong game of financial ideology.
Everyone agrees that spending must be reduced, but President Obama and congressional Republicans seem unable to agree on how much to cut, and where the cuts are made. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Demos are attempting to trim this rump roast of spending with a tiny keychain Swiss Army knife, while Speaker of the House John Bohner’s ruthless Republicans seem eager to kowtow to Tea Party extremists by savagely hacking away at social programs while leaving their beloved sacred cow of a military budget fat, dumb and happy.
Yes, that’s a gross generalization, but as I see it, that’s how it has shaped up since the Republicans were able to bullshit voters into sweeping them into a House majority in 2010 by promising that they’d fix what their own party managed to demolish over the course of eight years under Bush/Cheney. Grandstanding Republican Senators and spineless Democrat leaders have been doing this repulsive budget dance for months, and now millions of their constituents are on the doorstep of not just inconvenience, but hardship.
If these bloviating yayhoos can’t get their tired act together by Friday, the government will lose its spending authority and be forced to shut down, and the economic recovery is going to hit the fan. Soldiers fighting the three (damn, did I just type “three”?) wars will not be issued paychecks. Yeah, we support our troops, we just don’t want to pay them. Tax returns will not be processed, putting the kibosh on one of the government’s revenue streams. Actually, the IRS will still accept tax payment, but no refunds will be issued on paper. You know, those refunds that are routinely spent on new jet skis, giant TVs and barbecue grills. You know, spending that would give the economy a sorely needed boost. Smooth move, financial geniuses.
The battered housing market will also suffer another setback. If the budget agreement is not reached by Friday, government-backed mortgages will not be approved, meaning a whole segment of Americans will be unable to fulfill the American dream by buying their own home that they can’t afford.
National Parks will close, drying up tourist traffic to all the small businesses that make a living from park visitors. This will indirectly cause a financial suckhole in India, China, Pakistan, and other overseas countries who make all those “I Got Gored At Yellowstone Park” t-shirts. Eight hundred thousand federal employees would be sent home. The CIA would shut down (or WOULD they? Nyuk nyuk). Social Security and Medicare payments would still be issued, although their offices will close. Well, that’s a relief. Your retired neighbor with the fat pension will be able to go ahead with that expansion on his cabin at the lake, but your brother serving in the Army in Afghanistan will have to tell his wife and kids back home that they’ll have to hit the food bank for a while.
Here’s a scary one: the flow of funding would stop at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. This is particularly bad news, because research into new health treatments would be suspended and we need to find some kind of medical breakthrough that would enable members of Congress to grow a conscience.
The mail will still be delivered, so the direct mail industry will still be able to pour millions of tons of paper into landfills. Air traffic controllers will still oversee plane traffic (if they can stay awake), prison staff will stay on the job to keep all those pot dealers behind bars, and the International Space Station will continue to operate (although delivery of Alien Babes magazine will be suspended).
Also, the Border Patrol and the war on drugs will continue to flail away, fully funded. That’s right. The Fed won’t issue a full paycheck to a soldier who’s been sent abroad to protect some oil interests, but they’ll continue to pay a bunch of Charles Bronsons in Jeeps to keep those skeery Meskins from coming into the U.S. and continuing their reign of terror by earning a living and raising a family. Whew! That was close.
These days Congress is fully deserving of their poor reputation among American voters. They are the personification of Scrooge McDuck, and their disconnect from the needs and priorities of Real People is tragic and disgusting. They all enjoy balls-out, full-on health coverage for themselves and their families; their jobs are guaranteed to last as long as they keep promising their ovine constituency that they’ll get a bigger slice of the pie without gaining any weight; and the school of remoras known as special interest lobbyists supply a constant flow of spenderoni to make sure that they never go wanting for a thing.
The problem is, we love having the wool pulled over our eyes. We want our camera-loving elected officials to tell us that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are real. While they suck down champagne and dine on Kobe ribeyes behind the scenes, Congressmen (and –women) produce the outrage or tears or anguish or whatever soap opera emotion is required at the press conference to show their constituents how much they care about (insert pork project here).
The system is busted because we’ve let it happen. We don’t elect people who are willing to give us the bad news. We elect people who love gravy. If we’re unwilling to make the sacrifices that our massive budget deficit requires, we’ll never see any improvement. We’ll just keep enabling and enriching the endless string of gladhanders and backslappers who populate Congress. Radical ideologies and skewed priorities have conspired to create this situation, and now the reality of the situation has come home to roost. Only this time, they’re not chickens in Washington. It’s a bunch of big, overfed, myopic turkeys.