This isn’t my first government shutdown. I remember the one brought about by the clash between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in the 90s. I sat at home through most of the 2013 shutdown. The reality is a “shutdown” of the federal government is something of a pantomime. No president or member of Congress is quite mad enough to threaten to really shut things down – to send the troops back to their bases, close the country’s airspace, and dismiss the people who send out Social Security funds. Maybe they should, because shutting down the US Government is stupid – and stupid should be painful.
There’s plenty enough blame to go around when Sam runs out of money. Since funding the government is one of the very few specified tasks assigned to Congress, I tend to lay the blame squarely at their feet. They really only have a handful of “must do” items every year – the rest of the things they spend their time doing is grinding personal axes or chasing their party’s stated objectives. We the people, however, are the ones who vote for members of Congress – so in my estimation their failures are our failures as well. We make the decision to keep sending the same useless asshats back to Washington year after year. Perhaps we’ve finally gotten the government we deserve.
I’m one of the 800,000 “unessentials” whose furlough will start tomorrow in the absence of an appropriation. In one of the great moments in which I realize the universe has an odd sense of humor, if the Senate manages to remember their duty and tomorrow is just another Monday, I’m scheduled to stay home and telework. If they screw the pooch and let the shutdown run its course, I actually end up having to go to the office tomorrow. If the fact that I’m headed to the office if we don’t have money, but staying home if we do tells doesn’t tell you all you’ve ever needed to know about the appalling strangeness of federal employment I don’t know what will.
1. The driveway. Actually it’s not the whole driveway I find annoying. It’s the twenty feet or so of it that stays shady and snow covered even when temperatures reach on up past 40 degrees. That would also be known as the part that reaches out and trips unsuspecting people that are just trying to walk to the mailbox. If I ever find myself in a position of needing to replace this driveway, it’s a safe assumption that I’ll be taking a hard look at having heating units installed and just being done with shoveling, blowing, or otherwise dealing with snow in any way.
2. The federal budgeting process. As I write this, we are about 30 hours away from what the media calls a “government shutdown.” The reality of it is the lack of an appropriation could result in what might more legitimately be called a partial shutdown, with many portions of the government carrying on as if it’s just another day at the office. Still, though, it occurs to me that as long as I have worked for Sam, the Congress has failed to actually pass a normal budget on time and in regular order. Yes, in fifteen years I’ve never worked a day under what once upon a time was considered the “normal” federal budget process. I’m not saying we can trace all the problems of government back to their failure to do one of the few things that Constitution specifically expects them to do, but it seems like getting that fixed would be a decent enough place to start doing things the right way.
3. Baltimore. A monument to the Star Spangled Banner, the national anthem of our country, was desecrated this week. This act took place, in the very city where Francis Scott Key penned the words of what would become our song. It took place in Baltimore, in a city that should be filled with pride at being the home of the anthem and home to the long ago night in which the flag that inspired Key’s pen flew over embattled Fort McHenry. This is actually the second monument related to Key and the anthem that’s been vandalized in the last six months. There’s no geography on earth I love more than my native state, but gods help us, Baltimore is a cesspit.
As one of my furlough cost savings measures implemented last summer, I cancelled my trash collection contract, opting to spend about 1/8th as much money and take my trash to the dump myself. As I loaded the truck this morning in preperation for the monthly trash run, I couldn’t help but notice that it included two bags of actual “trash”, but four bags and a 45 gallon can of paper and plastic recyclables – no metals because I can cash those in separately at the scrap yard down the road from the dump. I have to admit I was surprised by how the volume of trash to the volume of recyclables has shifted. Ten bags of trash a month was the pre-furlough norm.
I didn’t start any of this because of any actual altruistic motive, rather I did it because separating trash from recycling saved half off the “regular” dump fee – more furlough savings. Now that it’s part of my regular routine, though, it seems to have become a self sustaining habit. Add that to the edibles/biodegradable items that get chunked out under the bushes in a makeshift compost pile, and apparently I’m a tree-hugging hippy… for all the wrong reasons, of course.
I appreciate the bone that House Republicans are throwing at the 800,000 federal employees who spent most of the past week sitting at home waiting to go back to work. While I won’t presume to speak for 799,999 of them, all I can say is as much as I appreciate knowing I’ll receive back pay for the time spent locked out, it’s just a handout. What I really want, what I expect of my “leaders” at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, is that they will take action to actually put the federal government back to work. As hard as it might be for the political class to believe, I want to be allowed to work for a salary rather than receive a fist full of dollars through the largess of Congress.
A cynical person might say that Congress is trying to buy the silence of 800,000 people who are directly impacted by their actions in the Capitol. While I’ll cheerfully take you money, and it will pay my rent and buy my food and pick up the tab for Monday’s root canal, what it won’t buy is my silence. It won’t buy my willingness to be complicit in your halfassed power plays. Money for nothing almost always comes with strings.
The historic response of Congress to any problem they encounter is to throw money at it. I suggest at a time when it’s becoming more and more clear that our financial well is running dry, it would be better for all involved to actually pass a budget or a continuing resolution and put the 800,000 back to work instead of handing us money for nothing. Then again, I’m just a guy who’s been sitting home for the last five days growing a beard, so what do I know about it?
P.S. I am however, very interested in your Chicks for Free program. Go ahead and sign me up for that one.
I contemplated giving WAJTW a pass today, but it’s Thursday and 93 weeks of tradition are a hard habit to break. Without further introduction, here are the top three in no particular order:
1. Speaker John Boehner. The man who surrendered the Republican Party to the radicals. He has the votes for a continuing resolution that would clear the House with bi-partisan support, but he won’t bring it up for a vote because it would effectively end his speakership. 800,000 federal civilians could go back to work, the United States of America could have an operational government, and Speaker Boehner could have been a hero in the eyes of moderates. All he has to do is make up his mind that being a statesman is more important than being Speaker. I won’t be holding my breath.
2. The budget. Much like Congress, I’ve spent the last few days doing my own budget drills and deciding what’s essential and what isn’t. I’ve got my list of what needs to be discontinued and over the next few days I’ll be slowly turning those things off. When you see the blog no longer being updated, you’ll know that essential services like cell service and high speed internet are starting to get cut. I’ve been contemplating issuing blanket IOUs to companies I do business with. After all, if Congress can make people work without paying them, I should be able to do the same thing with the Delmarva Power, AT&T, and Toyota.
3. Waiting. It seems like a foregone conclusion at this point that we won’t be back in the office tomorrow. At least the weekend will feel like business as usual. The most frustrating part of the shutdown/furlough/congressionally imposed asshattery, is the waiting – the uncertainty about when we’ll get back to work, the uncertainty about whether there will be back pay, wondering if it isn’t time after all to start casting a line at other career opportunities. The waiting just plain sucks. I’m frustrated. I’m angry. And the real pity in all of this is that for a generation of good and loyal servants of the republic, morale and the feeling that what we do is important will never actually recover.
As of about 7:25 this morning, I am no longer a member of the Republican Party. The brand of Republicanism I grew up with – of small but effective government, of sound fiscal policy, of a strong national defense – has been shouted down by a wing of the party that seems bent on no government, fiscal policy based on brinksmanship, and treating the defense of the nation as a “nice to have” option. Add those failings to the social conservative faction that wants to know who I’m sleeping with and treats privacy in general like an inconvenience along the road to a quasi-police state and I feel that I have no choice but to withdraw my support and my small voice in this nation’s political discourse.
Maryland doesn’t have an “Independent” option, so effective immediately I am registered as Unaffiliated according to the voter rolls of Cecil County. I’m not holding my breath that a party will come along that is moderate in its social views, sound in it’s fiscal policy, and strong in it’s support of the national defense. That use to be the Republicans, but there doesn’t seem to be any party or group that speaks to the issues that are important to me anymore. Both parties are too polarized to have room for someone whose views and opinions deviate that far from the extreme.
I’ve always crossed party lines to vote for whoever I believed was the best candidate. That we can’t expect the same approach from our elected “leaders” in both parties is damned near criminal.
I went to work for my Uncle Sam almost 11 years ago. I knew that the job was never a path to riches, but it was good, honest work in support of the republic. I had the idealist’s faith that I was doing good works and in exchange I’d be afforded a decent salary and benefits commensurate with my professionalism. Maybe that was true once… or maybe that’s a past world that only ever existed in my imagination.
This is going to sound strange coming from a cynic, but I still feel like I’m doing good works – that what I’m doing does, or at least should matter. What I’ve lost, though, is the faith that I’m doing the right thing for me and that my time and talents wouldn’t be better spent taking on some other challenge. That’s a startling realization after you’ve spent most of your professional life following what you thought was “the one true the way.”
After three long years of hiring and pay freezes, furloughs, impending shutdowns, an apathetic administration, and serving as the legislative branch’s favored whipping boy, it’s really a marvel of human endurance and fortitude that more people aren’t just walking away from the whole damned mess. I’m not on the cusp yet of having my “mad as hell and not taking it anymore” moment, but I’m sorely tempted on an almost daily basis.
I may have lost my faith, but like everyone else on the planet I have bills to pay and promises to keep… and that’s likely enough to keep me on the straight and narrow even when the thrill is gone.