Adams County in autumn is one of the most beautiful spots in Pennsylvania. Its country roads are surrounded by apple orchards and roadside stands stocked with pumpkins, cider and other seasonal delights. Our recent family trip there took us through Gettysburg and we drove by the historic battlefield where our nation’s union was preserved. We drove by it because we could not drive through it as the national cemetery was closed due to the federal government shutdown.
This I found curious as the government had to take proactive steps to close the battlefield. There is no admission fee to drive through it, there are no gates or fences or buildings. It is simply an open field, largely preserved as it was 150 years ago except for the roadways which enable visitors to access key sites of the battle and visit the many monuments which commemorate what they did there. In order to close it barricades had to be erected where none had previous existed.
Welcome to government shutdown 2013 where the goal of the Obama Administration is to inflict as much pain as possible to pressure Republicans in congress to cave in to the president’s uncompromising fiscal demands.
In real life the goal during a time of economic disruptions is to minimize the impact. Faced with a loss of income, families prioritize: pay the mortgage, buy food; put off recreational and other discretionary spending until funds are available. In business when revenues are down every effort is made to maintain service to customers. The goal is to make it through the downturn with the least amount of disruption possible.
No so in government. It is an old bureaucratic game played often by both parties and at all governmental levels. Take the steps that will cause the most disruption and pain to the largest number of people. This will create the biggest outcry and lead to a resolution that more often than not results in higher taxes and more government spending. The Washington Examiner reports that a U.S. Senate finance source estimates 83% of the federal government is running despite the so-called shutdown. The closing of federal parks and monuments is a calculated political tactic aimed at dramatizing the shutdown purely for partisan gain.
Such shenanigans are not limited to the federal government, or to Democrats. Here in Penn’s Woods the Corbett Administration is playing that same game when it comes to transportation funding. Former Governor Ed Rendell proclaimed a transportation "crisis" in Pennsylvania over four years ago. During this past spring’s session of the General Assembly the state Senate finally passed a transportation bill. It would have triggered a 28-cent per gallon increase in gasoline, so Republicans in the state House scuttled the plan. Enter Barry Schoch, Secretary of the Department of Transportation, who over the summer slapped weight restrictions on a number of bridges claiming they are structurally deficient and PennDOT does not have the money to fix them.
The timing of the weight restrictions is interesting in that the deficient bridge problem has been well known for these past four years. The powers at PennDOT got tired of waiting. When the legislature didn’t give it the massive infusion of new funding it wanted the agency threw a brat fit, restricted the bridges disrupting the businesses and motorists who use those structures. Once again, cause the pain so the people put pressure on the politicians to raise taxes to deal with the problem. It is working; the state House is expected to revisit the issue later this month.
Cooler heads have responded with more rational solutions. State Representative Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland) has sponsored a bill requiring PennDOT to move funds from lower priority projects to fix the deficient bridges. At the national level, as the government shutdown melds into the upcoming debate over the debt ceiling, U.S. Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania has proposed the Full Faith and Credit Act which would ensure America does not default on its obligations by prioritizing the spending of incoming revenue to meet those needs. The White House has threatened a veto.
And there you have it, responsible legislation designed to minimize disruption and slow the stampede toward higher taxes and more government spending is opposed, while steps are taken to make the amount of disruption and hardship is ratcheted up to ever higher levels. It is hardball politics at its worst. In the end the politicians and the spending interests win while we the people pay the price.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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