And now, a few sympathetic words for government bureaucrats.
Feel sorry for what President Barack Obama and Congress have done to them. Here we are, almost half way into the federal fiscal year, and Obama and Congress still haven't passed a budget. Technically, they should have enacted one before last Oct. 1, when the current fiscal year -- 2011 -- began.
Ideally, the federal government shouldn't be spending any money until a budget tells the bureaucrats how much they can spend and when.
Realistically, it's a huge mess, and all this dallying is costing us, the taxpayers, a lot of money. It's also giving bureaucrats fits. My son, Don, who sells information technology security systems to the military, alerted me to the problem, detailing how it is adding immeasurably to what many of us consider the normal state of bureaucrat confusion.
For months now the government has been operating on temporary, sham budgets, called continuing resolutions, that limit the executive branch -- defense, education, energy and so on -- to what it spent last year, or less. These repeated spending authorizations can be as short as a few weeks; the next continuing resolution, passed on March 15, expires April 8. Congress and the president resort to this charade because they can't agree on a real budget. They couldn't even pass the 2011 budget last year when Democrats controlled the Senate, House and White House. Pathetic.
Such uncertainty cuts into government efficiency. Lack of reasonable planning and sound management drastically cuts government productivity. The result is a huge and hidden increase in the cost of government, a cost that few will confess they are causing.
The irony is that Republicans repeatedly crab about how government uncertainty regarding tax policy, regulation and spending is the biggest roadblock to economic development and job creation. Yet, Republicans seem as willing as, if not more than, Democrats to allow this stalemate to continue. And, if the private sector can't operate efficiently in the face of such colossal uncertainty, how does it expect the government to do it?
Here's what it looks like inside government: contracts aren't let and critical jobs remain unfilled or not done. Important upgrades to security and other systems aren't implemented. Defense Secretary William Gates recently warned that the uncertain funding endangers the nation's security. New York Timesreporter Robert Pear recently inventoried how the uncertainty has reduced funding for Head Start programs, slowed Social Security plans to clear up a backlog of appeals for disability payments, hurt military readiness, curbed the implementation of new and tougher Securities and Exchange Commission rules, and curtailed cancer research. Among other problems.
Republicans and Democrats heap blame on each other and are warning that if the other side doesn't compromise on spending cuts, the government will shut down. It's reminiscent of the 1995 government shutdowns when the two parties couldn't agree on spending. Then, President Bill Clinton refused to cut as much as Republicans wanted, so he vetoed the spending bill that the GOP-controlled Congress had passed. Clinton knew that the Republicans couldn't muster the two-thirds majority to override his veto. In that, Clinton was the proximate cause of the shutdown, even though present conventional wisdom blames the Republicans, led by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich now makes no apologies for the shutdown and even seems to be encouraging another round. In a Washington Post op-ed, he defended the 1995 shutdown because of the savings it achieved: "The first four consecutive balanced budgets since the 1920s, paying off more than $450 billion in federal debt," all because Republicans stood fast, he asserted.
The shutdown certainly had its own costs and Gingrich isn't flat-out calling for a repeat performance. But if that's what it takes to impose some fiscal discipline, he suggests, then so be it.
So then, we're to believe our choice comes down to the slow-motion government shutdown that's under way or the spectacle of the government living beyond its means. Here I'm supposed to blame the rancorous partisanship. But maybe partisanship is not the problem.
Maybe the problem is that they all get along too well.