The Day After in DC: Random Thoughts

Posted on October 2, 2013 by


The old saying is “Another day, another dollar” and it certainly applies to the Federal workforce here in DC, only without any official work (some would say, there is no difference between now and before).  I have gained some interesting insights (maybe just observations–I need to be modest here) about the Federal government, including Congress, the past few days.  First, on Congress, as we watched the Senate Monday I was struck by the sarcasm evidenced by many senators–not to name the party.  They address each other as “my friend” or “my colleague” and proceed to ad hominem attacks.  Certainly this is partly for emotional appeal, but it also indicates a high degree of uncivility as well as a failure actually to engage in meaningful discussion and debate in public.  But the incivilty is of the more subtle kind, cutting sarcasm and personal attacks with a veneer of respect.  I am sure at least some serious discussion goes on in committees, but it would be nice for the public to see real engagement instead of mud-slinging.  In fact, I don’t remember any serious give-and-take debate at the level of ideas.  What I do recall well is the stories, endless stories, anecdotes designed to elicit sympathy and make the other side look bad.  Senator A tells us about poor Mrs. Y in his district.  Senator B goes one better about poor Mr. X in his or her district.  Of course this isn’t argument or debate.  I am not sure Congress has ever operated in the pure and ideal world of civil debate, but I do know that history has shown us that such debate did occur.  Maybe the decline is because of the media sound-bite world, or, perish the thought, maybe the quality or lack thereof of candidates.  I don’t know.  But it is evident that Congress is not functioning as it should, but perhaps I expect too much.  On a related note, no matter what one thinks about Senator Cruz’s efforts to defund Obamacare, he was extremely articulate and civil in his speech on the floor of the Senate in response to Harry Reid’s attacks on him as the “chief rabble rouser” in the Senate.

On the the mood and reality here.  Federal workers deemed non-essential are getting a vacation at the taxpayer’s expense, albeit perhaps delayed payment.  Traffic is lighter and that is nice.  Some restaurants are offering reduced-price or free items.  Perhaps some of those Federal workers, making an average of over $130,000 per year, should take advantage.  Better, perhaps some “average Joe” taxpayer ought to get over to the sale before the government starts up again and the inspectors shut it down for some reason based on an unknown rule.  Yes, I do sound cynical about our public servants here in DC.  But it is difficult to muster much sympathy when one hears one TV interview during which the unknown employee said he “doesn’t feel appreciated” and is “hurt” by that.  He probably has the first part right.  It is unlikely many average taxpayers feel much appreciation for a DC insider, given recent events.  

In addition, there is the really bad publicity about the closing of monuments, museums, memorials and even, at least technically the Mall (though impossible to enforce).  Yesterday a group of WW II veterans, with a little help, broke through the barriers to get to the World War Two Memorial.  Today, it was reported that officials stated that if they tried this again they would be arrested.  Now that is good publicity for DC.  OK, not really.  What a scene, police hauling away ninety-year old men who have served our country and have come to remember together at a site they helped pay for.  Such bad press seems to be appearing many places around the country, though it is not clear yet who will be blamed.

Finally a word related to my esteemed colleague Mark Smith (and unlike many senators I mean it), I appreciated what he wrote in his blog on the Republican House’s mistake regarding spending tied to Obamacare.  I thought, and still hope, their mistake can yet be salvaged by continuing to send spending bills piecemeal to the Senate.  It is not ideal.  I thought they should have waited until the debt ceiling issue in two weeks (more excitement).  But hindsight is always (or almost always) perfect.  It remains to be seen what the Senate, let alone the House, may do.  And it remains to be seen who specifically will be blamed.  Of course the anticipation of who might be blamed may well determine what Congress does the next few days. This fact is not lost on President Obama or the news media.  

As I close let me leave you with this happy thought.  Only 6.6% of all EPA workers are deemed essential.