Another busy week in the news. I hope to expound on these topics in the future but thought that I would get some quick thoughts down in the interim. Here we go:
- Syria. Events continue to percolate in our continuing effort to bring the Syrian regime to account for its August use of chemical weapons on its own population. Frankly, diplomatic efforts have gotten further than I anticipated that they would in this amount of time. The next key step will be to actually pass a United Nations resolution under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter. This is what will put the teeth into any effort to bring the chemical weapons under international control should the Syrians back off. The Russians had objected to any strong resolution to make Syria comply but it appears there may have been a diplomatic compromise. We will find out next week. I am still of the opinion that no action would have been taken on any front if President Obama had not threatened, and continue to hold open the possibility, of military action.
- Budget Battles. As we all know, the right-wing of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives continues to threaten to hold our economy hostage if there is no bill to defund the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. As predicted, this afternoon the Senate passed a Continuing Resolution to keep the government operating into November. It is unclear what will happen as the bill returns to the House. Probably, they will not meet the deadline of midnight on 30 September but I don’t think they will miss it by much so that the impact will be minimal. Or seem to be minimal. As I’ll explain below, it is already having an impact. The reason that it will pass is that Speaker Boehner will promise a similar showdown over the raising of the debt limit in mid-October. The current impasse will seem minor compared to what we are likely to see over that issue. Yet to be determined is whether or not the Congress can actually pass a bill that sets up a long-term management plan for the people’s money. Since 2007 the continual use of Continuing Resolutions is the primary method that Congress chooses to fund the government rather than using the appropriation and authorization bills. This year the Continuing Resolution keeps spending at or below last year’s funding and includes the sequestration that resulted in furloughs of workers, limited hours for government agencies and severely limited the ability of our Armed Forces to meet their training and equipping requirements. So, even if they pass the short-term Continuing Resolution by 1 October, they will not have solved any of the fiscal problems we face now and in fact, they just exacerbate them as we move forward. They should be so proud.
- Federal Government Workers. Consider the plight of government workers. So far in 2013 they have been publicly vilified by certain politicians, had their pay frozen for the last three years, furloughed via the sequestration which impacts their take-home pay, threatened with more time off with no pay if the Continuing Resolution does not pass, and experienced a shocking violation of the safety of their work place with the murders in the Navy Yard last week. In addition they must do more work with fewer people as the government continues to shrink but the requirements mandated by Congress have not abated. Please remember that these are not faceless bureaucrats. They are regular people working hard on important issues. They really do work hard. Of course, there are a few dead beats. There are dead beats in almost any work environment. However the vast majority, the vast majority, of people working in the federal government are working long hours trying their best to do the right thing. Many are beginning to re-think their dedication as they continue to be vilified and used as pawns in a political game. These are real people, not some theoretical “they” that can be played with without consequences. These same people have to pay rent, get their kids to school, fix the family automobile and deal with the same frustrations of life in the 21st century as do the rest of us. Different visions of what the government should or should not be are legitimate issues for discussion. Vilifying dedicated public servants is not.
- Entitlements. Lost in the brouhaha over the federal budget is the fact that several other important pieces of legislation sat in the House without action. Among these was the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. The House Republican leadership stripped the SNAP funding out of the farm bill passed last summer by the Senate in a bipartisan vote. Traditionally, the SNAP funding was part of the farm bill. It actually may be a good idea to separate the two as special interests were quite effective at getting what they wanted when the two were linked. However, the House action stripped nearly forty billion dollars from the program over the next ten years. Nice. If there is a country on Earth that should not have hungry citizens it is the United States. Part of the motivation for stripping funds is that allegedly too many people take advantage of the program. Does this happen? It is most likely that it does. Will stripping forty billion dollars from food stamps stop fraud? Most likely it will not. What the bill does do is restrict who is eligible for the assistance and limit the amount of time that they are allowed to receive benefits. It also puts new requirements on the states (the individual states actually control the distribution) which will require increased government workers to implement. I suppose that helps with job creation, but seems ironic from a number of Congressmen that want to reduce government. Here is the tough question that no one has yet resolved in my mind. Most Americans agree that there should be some kind of social safety net for our citizens — Social Security, Medicare, SNAP, WIC, and others. Most Americans agree that there is some percentage of the population that are dead beats — no matter what you try to do to help them, they just do not get it and never will. So the magic question is where to draw the line? How do you legislate out the dead beats without hurting those people who have legitimately fallen on hard times and need a hand while they strive to get back on track? Given the state of the economy over the last five years, there are a large number of people in that latter category. Let’s not cut them off to score political points.
There is a lot going on in our country. Many of these events underscore for me, yet again, that votes count and elections have consequences. I hope that our so-called leaders in the House and Senate figure out that the vast majority of Americans are disgusted by their inability to reach some common sense decisions. Quit manufacturing crises — there are enough to deal with without shooting ourselves in the foot.
Okay, I guess I wasn’t that quick after all.