Government reopened, for now

By: Dave Palmer

The federal government has reopened and the debt ceiling raised in yet another 11th hour deal in Congress. Late in the evening October 16th, President Barack Obama signed the Congressional bill, narrowly averting a first-ever default on the nation’s debt and putting the government back to work after 16 days of shutdown.

Right about now, hundreds of thousands of federal workers are probably wiping beads of anxious sweat from their brows as they return to work and begin receiving paychecks again. They will rest a bit easier thanks to the provision contained in Wednesday’s deal to provide back pay to workers who were laid off or had to work without pay because of the shutdown. Many millions more across our nation who don’t work for the government no doubt are breathing a bit easier knowing that our government plans to pay its bills on time and all the doomsday prophecies of skyrocketing interest rates and other financial amercement will not come true.

At least for now.

Reuters reported that the current deal funds the government through January 15, and extends the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority until February 7, pending talks and debate over a long-term deficit reduction plan. Based on the Tea Party’s shenanigans in Congress as of late, we will no doubt be back to government by brinksmanship come January 3rd. January 14th will probably be another 11th hour Congressional session, with Tea Party members clamoring for cuts in spending without specifying what cuts to make.

And no, recommending cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and the Post Office doesn’t count. Social Security and Medicare are 100% funded by payroll taxes, and the only reason they contribute to the deficit is because Congress borrows from the funds in the form of Treasury Bills, which get cashed in when the two trust funds need money. As far as the Post Office goes, it has never received money from the government or taxpayers. It is 100% funded by the postage it charges to deliver mail and packages.

However, according to the Tea Party, facts have a liberal bias. In fact, any fact or opinion that is not consistent with their talking points has a liberal bias, even if it comes from a more moderate Tea Party member. The sequestration that they demanded and got did not work to improve the economy, it only made it slightly worse. The cuts to discretionary spending that they demanded and got did nothing to help the country. Instead, more people ended up in the government social safety net that they say is destroying America.

This time around, they had the unmitigated gall to attempt to hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage over defunding President Obama’s signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act. Depending on who you talk to in the Tea Party, either the law will kill thousands of jobs, the law will cost the country way too much to implement, or the law will be a huge and gigantic failure that should be stopped before it has a chance to fail.

Never once did they propose an alternative to the ACA that didn’t involve provisions already in the ACA, or that would bring the country back to the outmoded model of private insurance that allowed insurance companies to deny their customers a service for which they’ve already paid based on a “pre-existing condition.” To top all that off, House Republicans actually changed the House Rules to state that only a Republican could bring the Senate bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, according to the Huffington Post. (Check out this video on You Tube to see a House Democrat take House Republicans to task for this fact.)

So, what exactly have they accomplished in all their huffing and puffing over a law that may allow millions of Americans to finally be able to afford health insurance? According to the Washington Post, an estimated $20 billion was sucked from the U.S. economy, and over 900,000 jobs killed. Standard and Poor’s estimates the combined costs of closing the government, reopening it, money that federal workers were unable to spend, tourism dollars not spent at national parks and their gateway towns among other associated economic costs to be closer to $24 billion.

Most Americans can agree that federal spending has ballooned out of control. Cuts can be made to reign in the deficit and start paying down our debt, so long as they are made in the right places. A better place to start than domestic spending is the spending our government does outside the country. Congress could vote to cut foreign aid to countries that no longer need it for economic development, and close some of the military bases in countries that have both a stable government and a functioning military such as the bases in Japan that have been there since World War II.

Another consideration for deficit elimination and debt reduction is the elimination of tax loopholes that allow companies and corporations to profit from sending jobs overseas, the elimination of subsidies that pay agribusiness to not produce crops, and subsidies to oil companies and other corporations that don’t need them. We could also close loopholes that allow hedge fund managers to declare their entire income as capital gains which allow them to pay a tax rate of 15% or less, considering the wealthy are far more likely to sit on their money than spend it as compared to the middle class.

The bottom line is that hurting citizens of our own country with austerity cuts to social safety net programs, cuts to infrastructure building/maintenance, and cuts to other domestic programs that do nothing to improve life in general for the citizenry of this great country. Article I, Section 8 states, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States…” Congress needs to ether perform that duty, or we the people need to make sure they do not see another term in office.