Thursday, September 17, 2015

Slowing Down The End

I’m not much for the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic entertainment that makes up a portion of popular culture. It’s not that I’m looking for stuff that's all sunshine and gooey, rather something in between: good entertainment. It’s the dark and largely negative expectation that is the world vision of a post-apocalyptic world  that puts me off. I suppose it makes sense given that the premise is some sort of cataclysmic event occurring. As we move towards the end of another September the rhetoric, gamesmanship and predictions of the End are upon us. You guessed it…It’s time for Government Shutdown! (Cue music.)

Like a bad penny certain legislators are using the budget process as a way to demand their way on a particular issue. This time it seems to be around the funding of Planned Parenthood. Last time it was Obamacare. The time before…does it matter? Partisans get their dander up and cable TV gets to run an end of the world clock to when the government will run out of money and close its doors causing mayhem throughout the land. Nonsense. (This is a family blog – but you can imagine a better expression synonymous to bovine excrement.)

The White House and some Democrats are hawking a Government Shutdown like it’s a mini-series coming to television on Halloween. All that’s missing is rhythmic drumming underneath the warnings of dire consequences.

The 2013 “shutdown” lasted 16-days. Approximately 800,000 federal employees were indefinitely furloughed, and another 1.3 million were required to report to work without known payment dates. There are 2.1 million government workers. That’s 28% of the workforce. Put another way: 72% of the workers were unaffected. And, like furloughs before it, every worker was paid for the missed work days retroactively. They didn’t have to use any of the massive time off afforded them as government employees.

72% of the workers are reporting to work in a shutdown. It can’t therefore actually be a shutdown. At best it’s a slowdown. More likely an inconvenience. This happens because the U.S. government hasn’t actually had a fully passed legislative budget approved by all branches since Bill Clinton’s in 1997 for FY98.

There are 12 Appropriations bills that must be passed for money to be spent. When all of the bills have been passed then the budget is considered law. In the event that something is not agreed to funding continues through a Continuing Resolution. In this century (2000 to 2015) the Government did not rely on a CR only once: 2012.

Whether it is a Continuing Resolution or the actual Appropriations Bill - funding is voted on and approved the three branches of government. The budget hasn’t been balanced in 18 years. So there’s a shortfall in that Congress votes to spend and what Congress votes to tax and collect from businesses, merchandise and individuals. It’s the deficit – now accumulated to over $18 trillion (with a t). The shortfall each year makes up the debt. In order to actually pay for what’s been approved – since there’s not enough income coming in to cover it – then money has to be borrowed. There is a limit to what the government can borrow – just like a credit card. Congress must then approve a raising of the debt limit in order to pay for all of the things it’s approved.

Many use the increasing of the debt limit as the most evil part of the process. As a deficit hawk I can agree in concept. The point, however, is that the ceiling is simply a reflection of the spending that is voted on in the appropriations and continuing resolution phases. By making it a separate issue (and timing its vote separately from the spending votes) many legislators are able to both rail against the deficit while voting to spend more than is being brought in. That’s voting out of both sides of your mouth.

The End of the World is not a slowdown in government services. Notice the airport, food inspectors, military maneuvers aren’t what gets's White House tours and courts. Voting to spend more than you bring in and then railing against the need to borrow to pay for those same purchases is the ultimate in political games and hypocrisy. As we come up to this year’s version of Government Showdown it’d be nice if we could get some different casting and plot points. I know how this one’s gonna end. (Hint: government expands.) Now that’s something worth slowing down.

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