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Incompetence reigns in Washington

Editorial

At this point, you have to ask yourself: Is this any way to run a government?

Tuesday came and so did the government shutdown, or at least what passes for one. The fact, most of the government was open and it will be. Lawmakers have deemed certain jobs too critical to stop and those will continue. And, of course, the federal government see members of Congress and president as critical, so none of them will be missing a paycheck, in case you were concerned about that.

But for a lot of workers who find themselves summarily listed as “non-excepted,” Tuesday came with the news that they would not be paid until this impasse, the first to hit the federal government since the Clinton administration, is resolved. After the 199os shutdown, the terms were changed from “essential” and “non-essential” to “excepted” and “non-excepted,” apparently to avoid hurt feelings along with the financial pain.

We’ve seen estimates that about 800,000 federal workers were sent home Tuesday, leaving 1.3 million “excepted” federal employees, who will be paid sooner or later. The 500,000 U.S. Postal Service workers will stay on the job and, thankfully, none of the nation’s 1.4 million active military personnel will miss a paycheck. Social Security checks will still go out.

If you want to visit a national park, need to E-Verify a job applicant or would like a passport, however, it may be a while. The Women, Infants and Children program and Veterans Affairs’ benefits such as pensions and disability claims will run into trouble before too long.

How long this will last is anyone’s guess. The previous government closure went three weeks. That’s a long time to miss a salary, especially when so many people live paycheck to paycheck. Families will be adversely affected. The places where they usually buy groceries, gas and clothes will be adversely affected.

Why is this happening? Politics. Whatever your political persuasion and ideology, it boils down to leverage and power, with both sides willing to inflict a scorched earth policy on their constituents rather than find common ground and workable solutions.

We’ve heard some people mention that the dysfunction in Washington is another argument for term limits, particularly since both sides were quick to solicit donations to help them “win.” We’d argue that we already have term limits. They’re called voting ballots. But like the officials we send to the White House and to Congress, we refuse to demand real change, instead getting caught up in pithy slogans. You get what you vote for, and this is what we got.

And if you don’t think it can get worse, here’s a little nugget to chew on. Sometime in the next 15 to 30 days, the federal government will once again bump its noggin on that pesky debt ceiling. Congress and the White House can’t write and pass a budget, but they can sure agree to spend money like 40 cents out of every dollar isn’t borrowed — some would say stolen — from our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and so on.

If this crisis gets resolved, there’s still that one to go. We doubt either side is going to change its tactics much. If this one isn’t solved when the debt limit hits, there’s a substantial chance that we’ll see another fiscal train wreck, one that will have repercussions globally … just in time for some politicians to give lip service about the merits of Thanksgiving.

The people we have sent to Washington saw the shutdown coming and they see the debt ceiling crisis looming. No one is blinking; their eyes are wide open.

It’s time that voters opened their eyes. If this disaster happens, if we get thrown into another recession or worse because of incompetence in the Beltway, everyone involved should be fired at the first opportunity. These people work for us; we don’t work for them. And that’s something we should all remember, especially when we’re looking at a ballot.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board