Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Relax, My Fellow Feds, Relax

Some colleagues, taking a break from work

NPR ran a calm and measured short history of government shutdowns yesterday, which I thought was a most welcome change from the otherwise hysterical media coverage of Washington's budget impasse. Did you know that these shutdowns used to treated with a big yawn? They were.

"In the '60s and '70s down until 1980, it was not taken that seriously at all," says Charles Tiefer, a former legal adviser to the House of Representatives, who now teaches at the University of Baltimore Law School. In the old days, he says, when lawmakers reached a budget stalemate, the federal workforce just went about its business.

"It was thought that Congress would soon get around to passing the spending bill and there was no point in raising a ruckus while waiting," he says.

Ah, the good old days. "No point in raising a ruckus" about a passing event that is, in any case, an inevitable consequence of our system of divided government. Such an adult attitude. But then, we didn't have the internet back in the 60s and 70s, or even cable TV, so how would you raise a ruckus in the first place? By the time you did that with print media, I suppose a new budget would have been approved.

It was Jimmy Carter's administration that invented Government Shutdown Theater. Turning Boy Scout Troops away from a closed Washington Monument, predicting that airplanes will fall from the skies and farmers will wander the earth not knowing what to plant without their Federal controllers and extension agents, and all that. I don't see how that was an improvement, but maybe it took people's minds off of the economic stagflation and 'odd/even' gasoline rationing that Carter had going on.

"They [Carter's Justice Department] used an obscure statute to say that if any work continued in an agency where there wasn't money, the employees were behaving like illegal volunteers," says Tiefer. "So they not only could shut off the lights and leave, they were obliged to shut off the lights and leave."

In the years leading up to [AG] Civiletti's opinion, budget standoffs lasting a week or more were commonplace. But after the opinion, no standoff lasted more than three days until the epic government shutdowns of 1995.

The WaPo has a list of the 17 previous government shutdowns since 1976, when the current budgeting process took effect. These things are not that unusual, and are normally over in a few days. Until then, it's best to remain calm and carry on, as the posters say. Complaining to your Congressman, bitching to the newspapers, and - most of all - picketing either Congress or the White House, are silly and counterproductive.

Fellow Feds, I say, don't be a bit player in Government Shutdown Theater. Refuse to raise a ruckus while we wait for a resolution. It would be quite pointless anyway. Outside the bubble of Washington DC no one, but no one, feels any sympathy for a class of people who make more than the average American, have better employment benefits than almost anyone else, and are least likely of all to be affected by the severe economic downturn that's going on out there in Real America. Those of us who don't get out of the bubble much need that tough love message occasionally.

I know it's easier said than done, but really, the best course is to relax, light up a smoke (at least metaphorically), and ignore the breathless panic-mongering that feeds the 24-hour news cycle.


Anonymous said...

Yeah TSB! Very good post. I have been enjoying all the hysterical ruckus and speechmaking..my favorite was the furious lady who showed up on a bicycle and proceeded to thoroughly condemn a bunch of proud republican reps before jumping back on her bike and pedaling off into the sunset. Hopefully the shutdown will give TSB time for a few more posts!! gwb

James said...

Re: Heading Picture
Top three AHCA site administrators!

TSB said...

James: I think that picture is a scream, because those three look just like three chain-smokers who work in my office. It's as if they had an old High School picture taken together. The picture is of child laborers in the early 1900s, BTW.

GWB: The shutdown doesn't affect my office so I'm working as usual, just not getting paid until it's over, if then. But the shutdown ought to provide lots of grist for my little mill.

James said...

" The picture is of child laborers in the early 1900s" Not true! I recognize every one of them from MSNBC!

Anonymous said...

TSB: Overnight Berlesconi finding he cannot bring down the Italian government decided to support it. He is Italy's most popular politician. Famous for being rich and immoral.

Here the most popular politician is Obama. Famous for Obamacare and adopting Bush policies on most everything else. I get the feeling that the shutdown
is orchestrated to destroy his political power more than anything else. If so the debt ceiling will be a big fight and the worse the economy is next year the better for republicans? gwb

Anonymous said...

OK TSB and James: Which two of these hooligans do you think assassinated the Iranian Chief of Cyber Warfare? They all look guilty to me! (which is my favorite line when called for jury duty) gwb


Anonymous said...

TSB: Here is your 'Friday Chuckle'!


It takes a good 2 man comedy team to describe this era's crop of cable news propagandists and interview word twisters. gwb

James said...

GWB; You had it right with all three. One on the right "Brains", one on the left "Face", and the one in the middle "Muscle".

Anonymous said...

TSB: I witnessed a shouting match on TV last night where (D-NJ) rep claims there is no subsidy for his ACA and (R)rep claims that's a bald faced lie. This morning Drudge gives us the ruling that explains: Congress staff have to buy GOLD Plan to get the 72% subsidy. http://thehill.com/images/stories/blogs/flooraction/jan2013/opmfactsheet.pdf

The upshot of this seems to be that nobody would want the silver or bronze plans which are crap and nobody could afford the Gold w/o 72% subsidy. So it looks like the 'clean CR' impasse is mostly about protecting affordable health care for congressional staff. gwb

Mari said...

Currently chillaxing.
I feel badly for my fellow feds who are living pay check to paycheck or have to somehow come up with the child-support, but my feelings don't help or change the situation. So I don't linger on that. Instead, I'm going to practice the ancient art of home economics and figure out how to live on one income.

TSB said...


Thanks very much for your comment. I'm afraid I was rather harsh at a time when people are feeling financial anxiety, but I do think it's best to keep some perspective about the relative economics of (most) Feds and most, well, real people.

The ancient art of home economics is definitely due for a revival!


Anonymous said...

TSB: I'm not sure I caught this right but I think Kenya is saying they have only recovered 4 dead jihadis from the mall in Nairobi. If that is true it's rather astounding. Also reported on RT this morning is that US special forces conducted a night raid in a Somali village. gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB:(stasi update) Alexander admits only one or perhaps 2 terrorist plots foiled:
by Michael Krieger of Liberty Blitzkrieg blog, (exerpt)

“One or perhaps two.” Or perhaps zero. The guy has the nerve to say “perhaps.” How do you not know? What a bunch of lying assholes. How the heck does 54 turn into “one or two,”?

I must have missed this question by the chairman but I did notice nobody asked him what we had learned by spying on Brazilian oil companies. (probably an oversight!)

TSB said...

GWB: The Kenyan mall event was highly confused, so I'm not surprised it's so hard to sort out what happened. Some of the attackers could well have gotten away with the crowds of fleeing shoppers.

On the 'attacks foiled' testimony, the numbers get very small once you take out the 'aspirationalp plots' by hapless jihadis who need to be spoon fed every part of their plots by helpful FBI agents and informants.