Gary J. Caruso | Thursday, October 3, 2013
This week, for the first time in 21 years, Congress failed to fund the federal government, therefore suspending the work and pay of more than 800,000 civilian workers through a “furlough” process. House Republicans – who frantically attempted, but failed, to completely dismantle the Affordable Health Care Act with more than 40 votes this session rather than attending to their budget differences with the Senate budget – are holding the entire national government hostage in the name of delaying President Obama’s signature health care act. Throughout the summer, Senate Democrats requested 18 times for the House to name conferees, or negotiators, to work out those differences. But alas, the Tea Party fringe in the House prevented such negotiations, partly because they generally don’t believe in governmental services and in healthcare services, specifically.
The blame squarely lies with the GOP, who never stepped to the budget negotiation table all summer after 18 Democratic requests and after Democrats actually offered a lower budget number than the GOP’s infamous “Ryan Budget” proposal. The GOP, refusing to accept a national presidential defeat and voting nonsensically over and over and over again all year like addicted dependents against the healthcare law, now feigns that all they ever wanted was for Democrats to negotiate at the budget table. Obviously, GOP rhetoricians like Texas Senator Ted Cruz conspired to create this showdown and closedown in October as a final play to remedy their fanaticism against the President and against government. The President and Democrats are correct in not negotiating with hostage takers.
This negative infliction upon our economy, upon innocent veterans, hungry preschool students and cancer-laden children awaiting treatment through governmental health facilities is but collateral damage for the zany zealots in Congress. Intellectual elitists like Bill Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard, whose wrongheaded thinking at the Project for the New American Century drenches his hands with the blood from theorizing how easily won and necessary war in Iraq would be, now pontificates about how insignificant this shutdown really is beyond his personal bubble. Ask any dedicated patriotic governmental worker what it is like to be without a paycheck merely because of unending, nutty actions against “Obamacare” by Congress.
The collective GOP should be ashamed of not limiting the nutty Tea Party element of their party. It is an insult that GOP representatives helped move a barrier at the World War II Memorial for visiting veterans, but then offered as their first budget consideration the park service budget while ignoring the Homeland Security (DHS) budget, the aviation safety budget, the agriculture food safety budget and the Defense Department’s civilian budget. Every so-called reasonable or moderate Republican in Congress today is just as culpable as their fringe fellow representatives – and should rightfully be labeled as cowards for sitting idly by while their whacky colleagues highjack their party and Speaker John Boehner’s ability to govern.
A quick example of one subcomponent of a multi-billion-dollar DHS agency budget should make every American shutter about how silly, dangerous and ill-conceived any government shutdown is in light of our national needs. This international DHS component has 7,649 employees. Of that number, furloughs were issued according to how each employee is paid. Those paid by a certain account are not less essential in their duties, but considered nonessential through the payroll funding. The organization is permitted to maintain 10 percent personnel from a certain funding stream.
Only 71 nationally were deemed exempt personnel. Shockingly, only 23 headquarters staff are left to support exempt activities specifically to operate, maintain, and disseminate intelligence data, telecommunications, computer connectivity, direct and immediate procurement, financial, legal and human resources support. This includes staff who must orderly shutdown the agency, process personnel and pay records along with property and inventory records to assure the protection of our government’s interests and assets. Try asking an international company like Exxon to accomplish the same temporary reduction.
This budget standoff reminds me of how silly schoolboys can act on a playground. Teddy calls Ollie, a hurtful name, so Ollie takes the only baseball bat on the field home with him. Teddy conspires with Johnny to get the bat by offering a candy bar. Ollie returns, prepared to trade his bat, and possibly to bring his new bat, for candy. But little Teddy pulls out a carrot he had stashed all along in his pocket, preventing Johnny from having any bargaining power. Instead, deceitful, cunning and insincere Teddy holds firm and furloughs both teams of players who sit without a game.
The tragedy of our real life scenario is that good, decent Americans go hungry and without a paycheck when all the little Teddies and Johnnies mess with their lives while the little Billies cheer them on. The destructive element in congress should take to heart their own oath of office, exactly what President Obama wrote to the furloughed workers, “So while the budget fights in Washington are too often partisan, your service to the country must never be.”
Gary J. Caruso, Class of 1973, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. Contact him at GaryJCaruso@alumni.nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.