How often in life has something not gone quite the way you hoped and you or someone responded with the common phrase, “We’ll make the best of it”? This is reflective of the natural optimism that is an endemic part of American culture.
The “Sequester” went into effect just over a week ago. It is inartful. No one loves it. But, it is better than not reducing the deficit at all and borrowing another $85 billion per year. Even though it was his idea, we now know that the president hates it. But, rather than take something he isn’t happy with and “make the best of it”, the president has decided to “make the worst of it”. He has affirmatively decided to intentionally and unnecessarily inflict discomfort on as many Americans as possible in a distasteful attempt to justify his excessive rhetoric of the last few weeks.
Amongst the many egregious actions taken is his unilaterally canceling of all White House tours, effective Saturday, under the guise of forced cost reductions because of the Sequester. The problem with that logic is that White House tours don’t cost anything. There are no tour guides except for a few unpaid docents. If you have been on one, you know that it is a self-guided tour. There are Secret Service agents in each room, but the Secret Service is largely exempt from the Sequester. Of course, there is a security check when you enter, but those checks are always there for people entering the White House on business. So, to save no money at all, President Obama told 92 children who flew 2500 miles from a school in Orange County, CA that they cannot see the people’s house this weekend. Upsetting children is worthy of the “all great and powerful Oz”, but not a president.
But, there is something emblematic here, as well. The White House is the only executive mansion of any government in the world that is open to the public. You cannot tour Number 10 Downing Street. You cannot see where the French president lives. But, you can see where John Adams wrote letters to Abigail and have always been able to do that because it is not the president’s house. It is the people’s house. By prohibiting public viewing of the $376 million remodel of the house those taxpayers paid for in 2010; by spending millions to fly Air Force One for a golf game with Tiger Woods, but saying it’s too expensive to let someone pay their own way to Washington and walk through their house without a guide; by continuing to spend $2.2 billion a year giving away free cell phones with more generous usage plans than almost of all you reading this e-mail have, while the people paying those taxes can’t see where Abraham Lincoln spent his last hours; the president is saying that it is his house and not your house. That is, frankly, disgusting.
Speaker John Boehner, on the other hand, announced that all tours of the US Capitol are open and will continue without abatement. Good for him.
But, it doesn’t stop there. By way of another example, the Department of Agriculture has chosen to furlough meat inspectors. You cannot slaughter the animals for food without these inspections, so this could actually result in some food shortages. In the government shutdown of 1995, meat inspectors were never furloughed despite the fact that government spending cut was 100% rather than the Sequester’s 2%. Also, these meat inspectors are paid for by fees levied on the industry for this purpose. These fees were not cut. The Department of Agriculture has more economists than any other organization on earth, but it appears that not one of them will be furloughed. If they had, you certainly wouldn’t feel that. There are also several trips scheduled to be taken by Department employees, including one to California’s wine country, where “spectacular wines” will be served. Not one of these trips will be cut.
“Make sure you are not contradicting what the impact would be.” Those are the words from an internal Administration memo rejecting a suggestion on how cuts within the Department of Agriculture could be made to be, “less painful to the public.”
You have been told that lines at airports may be longer and flying less safe because of furloughs of TSA agents and air traffic controllers. Yet, the TSA is going forward with its plans to spend $50 million on new snazzier uniforms.
Past presidents of both parties have always tried to reassure the country during times of stress that they will help navigate through difficult waters and that everything will be OK. That is leadership. This president seems to be telling you that it’s going to be awful and that he is powerless to do anything but make it more awful. But, be reassured in the knowledge that it’s not his fault. Nothing bad is ever his fault. That is abdication.
In the face of all of this, the president asked to come to Capitol Hill next week to meet with House Republicans. This request came the day after all of his Sequester orders, designed to cause public pain and discomfort, came out. This is akin to sending the peace treaty negotiators in while increasing the artillery barrage and launching an attack. I must confess that this president has done nothing to inspire trust from me and I suspect that is true of many of my colleagues. His permanent campaign and press conferences, filled with untruths and distortions, do not inspire confidence. We will meet with him because he is President of the United States. Press reports say he wants to talk about a “grand bargain” on the deficit. There is nothing I want more. Saving this country from fiscal ruin is the overriding mission I feel I have as a member of Congress. But, given the president’s actions of late, I am assuming that this is another false overture mainly intended to gain political and campaign advantage rather than to actually solve the problem. He has a huge trust and goodwill deficit to make up before we can really do something constructive.
But, this member of Congress will “make the best of it” wherever the meeting and its aftermath may go. That is what we do in this country. We will get through this and we will save this country from fiscal ruin. It would be easier to do with the president’s help. But, we will do it with or without him.
I will report back to you after the meeting.