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article imageOp-Ed: The government shutdown and American leadership

By Donald Quinn     Oct 20, 2013 in Politics
Washington - How a lack of leadership hurt the American People -
When did being a Representative become a license to penalize America's citizens for the representative's own incompetence?
The government shut down is officially over, all the government workers have returned to work and with a sigh of relief the Smithsonian opened its doors back up to tourists eager to expand their minds in the world’s premier museums. Considering that all the government employees got their back pay, essentially taking a paid vacation, there is little wonder that we are all pleased that the Republicans folded, the Democrats held fast, and eventually we got a quickie vote ending the shut down while extending our debt ceiling for another few weeks. All is right with the world again, at least until January when we could end up going down this road one more time.
As the world watched with bemused concern America stumbled like a drunken man from argument to argument while our government stayed shuttered. Shuttered may be a slightly exaggerated term in this case considering that the apparent shut down was very systematically designed to extol a high price from the American people. For example –
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) shut down the processing of refund checks and the customer service department remained closed, however people were still required to file their taxes.
First time home-buyers were affected because lenders could not confirm their income tax or Social Security data. Federal Housing Authority (FHA) loans were particularly affected which negatively impacted low to moderate income home buyers.
Veterans claims processing, which is already backlogged by 418,500 cases, was further delayed because Veterans Affairs (VA) employees were no longer being asked to work overtime. Regional offices stopped taking calls, leaving veterans with no option but to go to a center to get answers.
Federal Occupational safety inspectors stopped inspecting workplaces unless there was “imminent danger” putting worker across the country in danger of an accident and at the mercy of their employers.
Of all of these the most apparent and visible effect of the shutdown was the closing of the national parks and museums which put hundreds of tourists and kids out of the opportunity to see some of America’s historical monuments and natural wonders.
For a casual observer it would seem like a meticulous attempt to penalize the American people for the failure of their representatives to advance a budget that could be agreed on by all parties. Representatives are sent to Washington to serve the people but were so caught up in partisan rankling that ten months into the year they still had not been able to agree on a budget. The question is at what point did representing the American people become license for penalizing the citizens for the failure of the representatives themselves?
American’s have simply gotten conditioned to leadership that doesn't deem it necessary to lead, at the continued expense of the American citizens. The examples of this are all around us.
Social Security is on a one way freight train path to bankruptcy while Senate after Senate, Congress after Congress, and President after Presidential candidate have used it as a way to score points against the other side while doing little to nothing to fix the problem. As of the most recent Trustees' report in April, the net present value of the unfunded liability of Medicare was $42.8 trillion. The comparable balance sheet liability for Social Security is $20.5 trillion.
The debt ceiling was one of the reasons the Republicans gave for wanting to stall the passing of another spend happy budget. While an ill-conceived attempt to defund the affordable health care act took the spotlight away from the debt issue, the bottom line is America is going to be over $17 trillion in debt with seemingly no concern by our government to solving this issue. Apparently we are living in a glass house that looks nothing like Greece.
Educationally we are no ranked #17 in the world behind Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore. The slide continues despite supposed best efforts to fund education. Apparently the leaders of America are not paying attention when the experts talk about a culture of education in the higher ranked countries that give teachers a higher social status. Our leaders answer is pretty much standard, throw money at it.
The leaders in the Senate, Congress, and in many state governments across the nation continue to throw money at America’s problems and continue to increase taxes while failing to actually solve anything. The pattern of failing to solve problems, then penalize the American people continues is as ingrained in our leadership’s mentality, just like the partisan divide which has prevented us from making any real changes and, quite frankly, has made us look like a blithering confused giant to our enemies across the planet.
Take Maryland, the state where I live, for example where taxes have been raised consistently by Governor O’Malley for 8 years and by some estimates have accumulated roughly $9.8 billion. Supported by a listless, lack luster legislator of democrats who have gone along with everything the Governor has proposed the free state has bragged of deep cuts to the budget despite the fact that the budget has increase its spend from $29.6 billion in 2007 to $37.3 billion in 2013 and despite the fact that law makers are allowed to hide expenses like pensions and post-employment benefits. By some estimates these could be in excess of $52 billion. Meanwhile the state debt of Maryland are conservatively estimated by the non-partisan non-profit State Budget Solutions, is around $82 Billion. In a nutshell, just like the national stage, the debt went up and in order to cover their own incompetence at getting work done and balancing the budget to pay down debt, the lawmakers in the democratic controlled Maryland Senate continue to penalize the people of Maryland.
When American’s saw this purported shut down of the government we were alarmed and disgusted that the political elite of America could not get their job done. Yet we see it every day in our government’s failure to do its job, most clearly demonstrated by the fiscal irresponsibility of our leadership. And yet every election the same trove of elites show up, flood our air waves, and expect to get elected. Sadly they do over, and over again and until we start replacing the derelict inefficient elitists in power both at the State and Federal level – we can continue to expect that our governments will remain shut down in a much more real sense than the hiccup we saw in Washington DC.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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