Determined to put a real “sting” into the shutdown of the federal government in the absence of Congressional passage of a continuing resolution, the federal government incurred the added expense of shuttering popular open-air tourist sites.
“Money isn't the issue,” National Parks Director Jonathan Jarvis insisted. “These parks are owned by the federal government. We say when they are open and when they are closed.”
As it turns out, the NPS exercised more authority than it has. The blockades included privately funded sites that the NPS “mistakenly believed” they had the right to close. The most prominent of these was Mount Vernon—the former home of George Washington that is now run by a privately funded foundation. For that matter, though it sits on federally owned land, the WWII memorial was also built with privately raised donations.
Not all of the blockades were successful. Washington, DC's World War II memorial was successfully invaded by a contingent of 80 and 90-year-old veterans. “We had White House authorization to use deadly force if necessary,” said Park Ranger Bob Weaver. “But without comprehensive gun control laws we couldn't be sure we wouldn't be outgunned. Let's not forget that some of these old guys stormed the beaches of Normandy facing down Nazi artillery and machine guns—firepower that, thus far, has been denied to us.”
Weaver didn't sound optimistic that the NPS's most recent ploy of wiring the barricades together would keep out the invading vets. “It's not barbed wire and we can't lay down a pattern of automatic weapons fire to deter the vets from penetrating the perimeter. Fortunately, this generation is dying off and future efforts to prevent unauthorized intrusions onto government property should go more smoothly.”
Out west, tourists are utilizing helicopter tours to bypass the government's closure of Grand Canyon National Park's roadway entrances. NPS Director Jarvis is pressing the President to declare a “no fly zone” over the Park. “The government owns the airspace over the Canyon just as much as the ground on which the park sits,” Jarvis contended. “If we say the Park is closed no one has the right to view any part of it by any means. Flying over our barricades to sneak a peek is like stealing. It's just plain wrong.
Meanwhile, the October 1st implementation of the Obamacare exchanges has been largely a bust. Computer glitches impeded those few who tried to access the program. Others were stunned to discover that they must first provide an array of personal data before being allowed to see details on the insurance packages offered. Those overcoming qualms learned that the plans offered were significantly more expensive than they had been led to believe—more costly than coverages available prior to the Affordable Care Act.
GOP Bill to Fund NIH Blocked by Democrat
In a bid to protect important functions from being shutdown, Republicans in the House of Representatives are endeavoring to pass targeted funding measures. One of these was a bill to keep the National Institutes of Health open. This bill was rejected by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“The attempt to try to sneak through funding for items regarded as more important than some other federal spending is reprehensible,” Reid argued. “Sure, there isn't a person here who would disagree that keeping the NIH open would be a good thing, but we can't let an appreciation for services we all agree are highly valuable allow us to sacrifice spending that many would argue is less valuable or even unnecessary.”
Apprised that his “all-or-nothing” approach blocks funding that the GOP bill would have provided for treating children with cancer, Reid explained that “the fate of a few kids mustn't be put ahead of the need for Obamacare to be fully implemented. The short term sacrifice of the few in order to benefit the many over the long term is an exchange that true leaders have to make on a regular basis.”
The Majority Leader rejected his portrayal as “cold-hearted” and contended that “it is more representative of a 'profile in courage.' I am taking an unpopular position in order to promote the greater good. That is the way the media will portray it and that's the way history will be written. I don't have any regrets.”
Reid Calls for Civility, Labels Boehner a “Coward”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) pleaded with Congressional colleagues “to observe civility in our discourse with one another. Though we may disagree there is no need for us to resort to name calling.”
Fresh from this heart-felt plea, Reid labeled House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) “a coward.” The inspiration for this highly personal attack “is Boehner's inability to break free of the Tea Partiers who are mounting a fundamental assault on the way our government operates. They are challenging the traditional processes and casting the leadership of both Parties in a bad light.”
Reid was especially aggrieved that “Boehner has allowed the bipartisan deal to preserve the privileges and immunities of members of Congress and their staffs viz a viz the Affordable Care Act to be exposed to unnecessary ridicule. The Tea Party's assertion that Congress ought to live under the laws that we enact is a 'poison pill' and completely out of line with customary practices. That Boehner would have the gall to send over legislation stripping us of these traditional privileges and immunities is an outrage.”
Reid's name-calling was deemed insufficiently harsh for some. In an article for The New Republic, Julia Ioffe urged that President Obama call out troops to suppress “the intransigent resistance of the Tea Party. To continue to allow a minority faction to impede his rule would be a dereliction of duty.” Hollywood celebrity, Cher, tweeted a suggestion that Congressmen who thwart the President ought to be “deep sixed” (i.e., killed).
Shutdown Furloughs Indicate that 40% of Federal Workforce Is Non-Essential
Other than the high-profile barricading of selected tourist destinations there is little sign that the federal government shutdown is sparking the desired degree of panic in the population. Part of the problem may be that the 800,000 furloughed employees (about 40% of the total federal workforce) are non-essential.
Naturally, the question in many people's minds is “why does the government keep so many non-essential employees on the payroll?” President Obama explained the rationale by pointing out that “the federal government is the nation's largest employer. As such, it is our responsibility to sop up otherwise unemployable persons and give them seemingly meaningful jobs.”
The alternative, the President said, “would be to have hundreds of thousands of individuals with non-marketable skills cast into the pool of the unemployed. The functions carried out by these workers are not the kind of tasks that customers would freely pay for if they had an option. By giving these people a desk, a computer, and paperwork to do we are allowing them a dignity and sense of worth that they might not get if they had to slave over a minimum wage job.”
In related news, an unfortunate side effect of the shutdown has been an improvement in the federal government's cash flow. While revenues coming in have been mostly unaffected, expenditures going out have significantly dropped. As a result, the deficit has temporarily turned into a surplus. If this were permitted to continue there would be no need to raise the debt ceiling.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) described this development as “a disaster” and pleaded with Wall Street “to use your financial muscle to bring the GOP back into line. Your government contracts, your subsidies, your tax breaks—all depend upon a robustly growing federal government. If you don't step up now your gravy train will go off the tracks we have worked together so diligently to build over the years.”
Administration Preparing to Rachet Up the Pain
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says that the barricading of parks and monuments is “merely lesson number one in the effort to educate Americans on how their government works. Not being able to visit a park or monument is an inconvenience. Lesson number two, I assure you, will cut closer to home.”
“Lesson number two” will apparently entail the withholding of benefit checks for Social Security recipients, persons on welfare, and veterans pensions. “This more painful lesson can be avoided if Congress cooperates in implementing the President's program for America,” Lew cautioned. “However, the continued insistence that the President negotiate a compromise solution only ensures that these dire consequences will be fulfilled.”
The kinds of compromises that are off-limits according to Lew include “any modification to the Affordable Care Act not initiated at the President's sole discretion, any attempt to discontinue subsidies to any corporations carrying out the President's green energy program, and any action intended to reverse or limit the scope of any Executive Order issued by the President.”
Lew marked out a date in October when “Congress must without hesitation raise the debt ceiling to the level specified by the President in order to avert the implementation of lesson number two. It will literally be a 'do-or-die' situation. The stress of delayed pension payments to aged recipients could be deadly. Likewise, rioting and looting might be welfare dependents' only option once their checks stop coming. The President has clearly delineated the choice before Congress: cooperation or chaos. The decision is theirs to make.”