The shutdown's squandered opportunity
There are some important lessons to take away from the government shutdown. First, we learned never to underestimate the petulance of our fearless leaders in Washington.
We saw them kick people out of private homes and businesses on public land; order our veterans away from outdoor monuments in the nation's capital in a way that never occurred to anyone when the Occupy folks had taken over; saw federal employees prevent people from pulling off the road to look at Mt. Rushmore; and attempt to shut down private landmarks.
The most important lesson is the one that no one in Washington appears to have noticed: The shutdown provided a road map to a balanced budget. Instead of taking the opportunity to get federal spending under control, our representatives got right back on the taxing-and-spending train that brought us this mess in the first place.
Lest there be any doubt, consider what Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on NBC's “Meet the Press” just days after the shutdown ended: “There's no question that the deep spending cuts that are part of sequestration are holding back the economy.”
Sequestration? The Treasury secretary would have us believe that these cuts, which trimmed all of $44 billion from the federal budget, are somehow a problem worth addressing in the face of a $900 billion deficit. The Treasury secretary, wringing his hands over four days' worth of federal spending, fiddles as Rome burns.
Had he been paying attention, he would have seen that the shutdown closed about 17 percent of the federal government — and no one outside the Beltway noticed. Or rather, we wouldn't have noticed if government employees hadn't shut down websites and national parks with such great fanfare.
It cost the government more to shutter its websites and national parks than what it saved. Those shutdowns weren't shutdowns at all; they were advertisements for government. Further, if no one really noticed that 17 percent was missing, we only needed to find another 7 percent to balance the budget entirely. With some will and some nerve, Congress could have truly balanced the budget for the first time since 1960.
Not surprisingly, Congress decided to go the other way. The House already has voted, unanimously no less, to provide back pay to the 800,000 federal workers who were furloughed. Is there any doubt that the Senate will not do the same? This means that, at least where salaries are concerned, the government didn't shut down so much as go on a massive paid vacation.
To put this all in perspective, IHS Inc., a global market-research firm, estimates that the direct cost of the government shutdown was $5 billion. Our government is so inefficient that it actually managed to lose money by shutting down. Impressive.
The shutdown could have been the first step in getting our economic house in order for the first time in two generations. But it turned out to be just another testament to our fiscal irresponsibility. This was the saddest and most predictable lesson of all.
Antony Davies is associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. James R. Harrigan is a fellow of the Institute of Political Economy at Utah State University.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates top Cardinals, 5-2, on Davis’ homer; Alvarez, McCutchen hurt
- For Steelers outside linebacker Jones, size is not an obstacle
- Students’ use of iPads a minefield
- Steelers notebook: Team cuts 15 players, including LB So’oto, RB Hall
- Elizabeth Forward School District fosters high-tech culture
- Elizabeth officials combat juvenile problems
- Steelers cornerbacks Allen, Gay, Taylor have something to prove
- Latrobe law firm’s secretary pleads guilty to income tax evasion
- Dem Wolf eyes shale’s ‘golden egg’ to boost school funding
- Pittsburgh paramedics treat 38 people at Stage AE concert
- Western Pennsylvania drivers at bottom of insurer’s safety rankings