Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Government Shutdown: As Much About Trust as Money - And, Right Now, My Trust Tank is Empty

After serving my government for more than 50 years (20 in uniform and 30-plus as a diplomat), I was kind of hoping that in retirement I'd finally get a modicum of respect for all that dedication. You know; something more than the pat on the back as they take your building pass and show you the door.
Well, at midnight, September 30, 2013, the esteemed members of the U.S. House of Representatives; at least the Republican members; showed me and thousands of other federal retirees just how much our service is valued - Zero.
The foam-at-the-mouth Tea Party activists in the House, who don't even constitute a majority of their party, cowed their colleagues into playing chicken with the Democratic-controlled Senate, and no one blinked. As a result, for the first time in 17 years, Washington's federal agencies have to turn down the lights and tell a bunch of people to stay home on October 1, and for the foreseeable future if these nimrods are unable to pass at least a Continuing Resolution while they wrestle over the budget. So, 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed, while a million or more, considered 'essential', will be asked to work without pay.
What has brought us to this deadlocked situation? A small group of zealots in Congress have decided that they don't like the Affordable Care Act, which was passed by Congress in 2010, and they're willing to plunge the country into economic chaos in order to block it. Kind of like playground bullies who, disliking the game others are playing, shut down the whole place, shouting, "If we can't play our game, no one will play any game."
When Republicans, in another fit of zealotry, shut the government down 17 years ago, I was working in a U.S. embassy in West Africa. We stayed open, but without a lot of essential services, like family travel. With two kids in college who were visiting me during their December break, I found myself having to buy their tickets to return to college out of pocket, and then had to wait more than two years to get reimbursed. Just one example of the inconvenience some federal employees had to endure back 'in the day.' More than minor inconvenience, but it pales in comparison to the situation I might face this time around.
You see, as a federal retiree, my monthly retirement check is tied to the federal budget. My social security payment (which was severely reduced because of my federal annuity) will come on time, and my Foreign Service retirement check for October 1 will be deposited in my bank account. But, if these honorable (sarcasm, folks) personages are unable to learn that politics is supposed to be the art of compromise, and they let this mess go on past the end of October, some federal retirement payments are in jeopardy. There's also the question of whether those who are furloughed will get retroactive pay for the time off. I can assure you, their creditors won't cancel any payments due during that time. But, do any of these rabble-rousing zealots care? I doubt it.
This shutdown will be an economic disaster for a lot of individuals and small companies, but it's not just about money. There's also the issue of trust and confidence. If anyone trusts the U.S. Congress after this, it has to be because they've been in a time bubble and isolated from what's been going on for the past decade.
I'm not from Missouri, but I can tell you one thing's for sure; this 68-year-old Marylander is taking the U.S. Congress off my Thanksgiving Dinner invitation list.

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