Private sector workers impacted by the federal behemoth may never recover. Does DC care?
In 2009, President Obama told Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA), “Elections have consequences, and I won.” As with his healthcare law, amid this year’s impasse, he said “there will be no negotiations on the debt ceiling” and “I shouldn’t have to offer anything” in dealing with Republicans. To ensure that Americans got the message, the National Park Service was told “to make life as difficult for people as we can,” one frustrated ranger informed reporters.
As the White House, Democrats and Republicans remain at an impasse over debt limits, the budget and the growing disaster that is Obamacare, the situation has become surreal.
Some 800,000 federal workers were furloughed without pay, and the economic ripples caused many local businesses to lose revenues. The pain is palpable. But for government workers it is only temporary.
The House voted to restore the government employees’ paychecks once the brinkmanship is over; the Senate will almost certainly follow. That’s how previous shutdowns were handled. Moreover, the Defense Department has already brought back most of its 350,000 furloughed civilian workers.
However, those local private sector workers will never recoup their lost income – and that’s only the leading edge of the economic tsunami, and the way the President runs his Executive Branch.
Death benefits were withheld from grieving families of heroes killed in Afghanistan. The Park Service permitted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to lead an immigration rally on the National Mall, but closed the World War II Memorial to aging veterans who had arrived on Honor Flights. The vets breeched the “Barackades,” and the “Spite House” backed off – but only for veterans, and not elsewhere.
The Service padlocked parks and monuments all over America, disrupting long-planned, fully paid vacations. It blocked roads and parking lots to privately owned and operated sites like Mount Vernon and Claude Moore Colonial Farm Park in Virginia, ensuring that major events during one of their busiest months would be cancelled and much of their revenue would be lost forever. It closed highway overlooks at Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore. The feds even closed hunting areas and booted people out of their homes at Lake Meade and on other federal lands. This had not been done during prior shutdowns.
Amidst it all, Mr. Obama insisted that he opposes “extortion” and “hostage taking.”
Elsewhere, federal lawmakers and bureaucrats have been busy for years. Thousand-page Dodd-Frank, unaffordable healthcare and other laws that no one read before enacting them were followed by 10,000-page regulatory decrees to interpret and impose the legislation. The IRS targeted political “enemies” and their financial supporters, and gave leftwing groups the names of donors to conservative organizations.
The Interior and Energy Departments and Environmental Protection Agency are spending tens of billions of taxpayer dollars annually mandating and subsidizing wind, solar and biofuel programs – and exempting them from endangered species laws. Meanwhile, they wage war on coal, oil and gas, mining, logging, fossil fuel-based manufacturing, even ranching and farming, and the communities that depend on those industries for livelihoods and living standards.
EPA alone issued over 1,900 new regulations since January 2009 – many of them based on questionable science, cherry-picked studies, unsupported assertions and even illegal experiments on humans. Ignoring clear congressional intent and federalism principles, it usurped state air and water programs and is promulgating draconian carbon dioxide rules that will impact everything we make, ship, eat and do.
It also engaged in 48 cleverly devised “sue and settle” arrangements. Environmentalist groups sued EPA, which then conducted closed-door negotiations that sympathetic judges approved. States, companies and other parties adversely affected by the decisions never had an opportunity to be heard, or even find out a lawsuit had been filed until it was over. None of these autocrats will ever be held accountable.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute calculates that government regulations, delays and red tape cost American businesses and families over $1.8 trillion annually. That’s half the 2012 U.S. budget, and 10% of our gross domestic product. The impacts on employment are enormous.
Official unemployment rates have fallen slightly — mostly because millions have dropped out of the workforce, and millions of full-time jobs have been converted into more millions of 29-hour-per-week positions. Over fourteen million working age Americans are unemployed, involuntarily working part-time, for less pay than with their old jobs, or have given up looking. The percentage of unemployed blacks is double that for whites.
Incomes have fallen, poverty and homelessness have risen, the Bureau of Economic Research reports, and inflation-adjusted median household incomes are down 4.4% in four years: $2,200 out of $50,000 annually. Millions of families rely on welfare, unemployment and disability payments for a least part of their incomes. Our national debt has soared six trillion dollars in four years. Our 2.5% annual economic growth is tepid, at best.
All of this means steadily declining quality of life for tens of millions of Americans. Factor in taxes and inflation, says the AP, and it’s the largest decline in real personal disposable incomes in fifty years. And that’s just the beginning. The total, cumulative impacts are monumental.
Anemic growth, fewer full-time jobs and declining economic status also mean millions of families cannot heat and cool their homes properly; pay rent, mortgage or other bills; take vacations or save for college and retirement. Not being able to work takes a huge physical and psychological toll, as well.
As Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan points out, work gives us purpose, stability, shared mission, pride and stature. Work is a way to serve one’s family and community, and be integrated into the daily life of our nation. Being unable to find or keep a job erodes self-confidence and self-worth. The impacts of joblessness on people’s health, welfare and psychological well-being can be devastating.
The stress of being unemployed – or holding several low-paying part-time jobs – means poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, more miles of stressful, expensive commuting, and higher incidences of depression, and alcohol, drug, spousal and child abuse.
It means lower life expectancies and higher suicide rates. It means every life allegedly saved because of countless new laws and regulations is offset by lives lost or shortened because of those same rules. Even worse, many of those costly regulations are based on ideology, meaningless computer model “scenarios,” or science that is sloppy or even fraudulent. That means they actually bring few or no health or environmental benefits – but do impose enormous human costs.
Thus far, Washington is doing nothing about these “furloughs,” lost incomes and lost lives.
It is ignoring the most fundamental principle of legislation and regulation: First, do no harm.
No wonder few Americans sympathize much with the furloughed federales – and many question why we need two million federal bureaucrats and congressional staffers, cranking out more job-killing laws and regulations that do little to improve health, welfare or environmental quality, and much to diminish it.
Democrats, Republicans and the President need to negotiate like adults, fix Obamacare, trim the budget, rein in the regulatory behemoth – and restore our nation’s ability to do what it once did so well: innovate, create jobs, attribute dignity and responsibility to work, and make the pursuit of happiness available to all.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death.