Friday, July 15, 2011
When Will This Long National Nightmare End?
No kidding. It happened before in 1995. It will happen again in 2011 or something very similar.
President Gerald Ford, one of the greatest spending bill veto-wielding President in the history of the American Republic, coined the phrase: ‘Our long national nightmare is now over’ when he was sworn-in as President after Richard Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.
President Ford wouldn’t know what to say about this ‘really long national nightmare of deficit-spending and debt accumulation’ that we have been engaged in for 27 of the past 30 years. He said he vetoed almost all the appropriations bill that were presented to him from Congress because: ‘I used to be the Minority Leader in the US House so I know just how much crap is in those bills.’
In 1995, the last time a similar government shutdown not only was ‘threatened’ but actually accomplished, the situations sounded very familiar: President Clinton did not want to cut much government spending; Republicans did not want to raise any taxes to close the budget deficit gap. It came down to, you guessed it, the House Republicans refusal to raise the debt ceiling unless they got more spending cuts that would lead to a balanced budget.
The first shutdown lasted only 6 days, from November 14 to November 19, 1995. 4 working days really since the last two were the weekend. The second one was more substantial lasting from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 2006.
The budget deficit in 1995 was a paltry $164 billion and the debt held by the public was a measly $3.6 trillion which represented 48% of our GDP at the time. Our economy was roughly half the size it is today or about $7.3 trillion in GDP.
Total federal SPENDING for the entire US budget in 1995, including Social Security and other so-called ‘off-budget’ items, was only $1.5 trillion. Just a very short 16 years ago, less than the age of every single person reading this posting.
The budget deficit today in 2011 ALONE is now about $1.3 trillion per year or about 33% more than what current tax revenues are bringing in.
Think about that for a moment and wonder to yourself: ‘Are we spending more money than we should or are we taxing too little?’
We have a spending problem, not unlike the alcoholic who pledges sobriety but ‘let me have just one last drink before I do!’
St. Augustine’s great quote before he became ‘Saint’ Anything comes to mind: ‘Lord, Make Me Chaste, Just Not Yet!’
So, the government was shut down in a dramatic way amidst all the theatrics that would make any Broadway producer proud. The first shutdown was short and brief and the second one took place over the Christmas holidays. But imagine you were a ‘non-essential’ federal worker over the Christmas holidays in 1995 and wondering how you were going to pay for all the Christmas presents you have just charged to your credit card for your family?
That is an apt analogy for us as a nation today, isn't it?
And how did that ‘crisis’ end? Just like this one will in some form or fashion.
‘Everyone thinks it is a good idea to cut federal spending. Until it affects them.’
Food safety inspectors will be told to stay at home and food will not be sold or will be labeled as ‘uninspected’. You want to eat pork or beef that has been ‘uninspected’? Go ahead, you first.
Passport officials will not process any passports or visas. You want to go to China to do business and all of sudden forgot that your passport had expired last month? Forget it. You ain’t getting no passport and you and your business ain’t going to China anytime soon.
But you know what really got Congress in a bind about ending the shutdown in 1995-96?
People who had been saving all their money for a year to come to Washington, DC to see the lights and go to the White House to see the decorations and visit the national monuments on the Mall did indeed come to town and did indeed go to the Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington Monuments about ¾’s of a mile from Capitol Hill. Many had been drinking sweet tea all the way up I-95 from places such as Lumberton, North Carolina.
So when they got through walking up and down the 897 steps in the Washington Monument, many of them had to use the facilities to relieve themselves of all that sweet tea they had been drinking on the trip up to D.C.
And the Port-A-Johnnies near the Monument were chained shut. Closed. Not open for business.
So where was the nearest public restroom that was open since the entire national park system, which included the Smithsonian Museums et.al. along the National Mall, were closed due to the shutdown?
Why, Capitol Hill of course, a short drive from there but mostly a very brisk walk or run for people in a hurry who needed to go to the bathroom and were mad as hornets to boot.
Staffers told us it sounded like a herd of angry elephants had stormed the Capitol and the adjacent House and Senate Office Buildings (our favorite address was working in a building called ‘Dirksen SOB’) and after they had all used the bathrooms, they came storming into every single office screaming about ‘how dare they close the bathrooms near the Washington Monument!’
Which is why you wanted to work on the fourth or fifth floor. Most of the angry mob got tuckered out about the 3rd floor of door-to-door lobbying.
Some convoluted deal will be concocted to extend the debt ceiling to probably after the 2012 elections, of course. We may have a few days of technical government shutdown, although interest will be paid on the national debt and no default will be incurred. No major spending cuts achieved; no major tax hikes or reforms agreed-to. Another year of massive debt accumulation to ensue for your children and grandchildren to deal with.
But there you have it. The way this long national nightmare of 2011 will end. In the bathrooms of Capitol Hill.