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Outside editorial: The budget news was good, but process was troubling

Posted: April 11, 2011 - 7:56pm

The following editorial first appeared in the Kansas City Star:

In the end, a governmental crisis was averted, and that’s always good news.

But the process should leave Americans very concerned about what is to come in the nation’s Capitol. Late Friday, congressional leaders approved a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year that cuts about $38 billion from current spending. Compared with the federal deficit and debt, the amount was peanuts. And it was very worrisome that the deal agreed to had, essentially, been on the table for days. And yet, over what in budgetary terms amounts to less than a rounding error, Republicans blithely threatened to create chaos in the lives of 800,000 Americans — the number of federal employees nationwide.

Such gamesmanship wasn’t merely the latest sign of a broken system, it was cruel.

This “my way or no way” style of “politics” among our national leaders has to stop. Especially with a fight looming over raising the debt ceiling. Similar brinksmanship on that issue spells very bad news for this nation. A late slipup could hurtle us into another financial crisis, complete with rising unemployment and millions more ruined lives. Americans must demand more pragmatism from Congress.

In the crisis averted, the fight began with cutting federal spending, and ended up trotting out old ideological canards.

The GOP took a stand insisting it wouldn’t budge unless all $300 million to Planned Parenthood was cut. The reason: a categorical untruth — that Planned Parenthood’s mission and funds are all about abortion. Surely, intelligent leaders know this is false. No federal funds support abortion. At least 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s work has to do with cancer screenings and pregnancy prevention.

The budget fight also ignored this point: Federal workers aren’t a special caste, didn’t land in their jobs through ill-will or graft. They’re Americans, in many cases very patriotic Americans, who chose, and were chosen for, national service.

And yet in the nation’s capital, many Republicans decided national interests are best served when the powerful toy with the lives and livelihoods of those without power. The wealthy, after all, can deal with a missed check or two. The same gap for those living paycheck to paycheck can spell disaster.

The brinksmanship was shameful.

The GOP argument was that they’re out to fix a bloated federal system. House Speaker John Boehner insisted he wouldn’t “roll over and sell out” Americans. Yet the pain was directed at workers, and not the members of Congress, whose pay would have continued.

All this preening showed a willingness to throw federal employees under the bus for less than the gas to run it. Put the numbers in perspective: Even at their most slash-happy, GOP cuts would have reduced the federal deficit from about $1.3 trillion to about $1.2 trillion. The deal on the table by midweek last week was $1.26 trillion.

Clearly, neither offers a solution to our overspending. Neither even puts this country on the road toward fiscal sanity. What this bickering proved was that, for reasons of pure politics, Congress was willing to close America’s parks, flat-line federal housing loans and new additions to Social Security (both payees and recipients), and suspend food inspection except in cases of crisis.

Tax returns would have been delayed, and incoming forms wouldn’t have been processed. Military families — already emotionally and financially burdened — had to worry that they were facing delays before needed checks were issued.

And yet, thinking more about how the headlines will play during the 2012 elections than the health of this nation, members of Congress toyed with the lives of Americans and the operation of the government.

Today, it is worth wondering if those workers, much in the way a mouse views a cat which it has once eluded, see the deal as an escape, or a warning of what is to come.

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