MARC CHASE: Silver linings to a childish shutdown

2013-10-03T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Silver linings to a childish shutdownMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
October 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The childish snits leading to government shutdown have been filled with plenty of grandstanding — much of it by the very people who caused this embarrassment.

But sometimes even in grandstanding and gridlock, some good ideas for better government emerge.

In the Facebook universe yesterday, I spotted a letter from an Illinois congressman, GOP Rep. Rodney Davis, to the chief administrative officer of the Capitol building in D.C.

In the very brief letter, Davis asked that his congressional paychecks be withheld until the shutdown is resolved.

Further inquiries revealed some Indiana federal lawmakers, including Sen. Dan Coats, have decided upon similar personal austerity.

There's no doubt these are calculated moves to curry favor with voters shaking their heads and fists at Congress long before this childish impasse.

After all, 800,000 federal employees are on furlough, right? The government is shut down because Democrats and Republicans are meeting at the Capitol complex flag pole to double-dog dare each other rather than setting to the business of compromise.

The paychecks of those 800,000 employees are on hold in the process. If history serves, they probably will get retroactive pay when this tomfoolery is resolved.

But until then, Davis and Coats probably have it right. Congressional pay should be withheld as it is for those hundreds of thousands of other federal employees.

In fact, a clause in federal law to withhold congressional pay in these types of situations probably sounds like a good idea to many soured voters right now.

The furloughed federal employees have families, bills and obligations like the rest of us. In the short term, they won't be able to meet those obligations the longer this goes on.

Withholding congressional pay might not be a complete parallel to the other federal employees, as most of our federal lawmakers already have healthy nest eggs without their congressional pay.

But the sentiment contains the proper symbolism. Why not add teeth to the symbolism by making the congressional pay loss during periods of government shutdown permanent if it goes on for too long?

We don't have those deterrents on the books, so perhaps something else positive to government finance can be gleaned from the shutdown.

With 800,000 federal workers on furlough, this might be a good time for government bean counters to identify jobs in the government sector to place on permanent furlough.

I'm not talking about workers such as the crucial National Park Service personnel, whose monuments and historical sites create huge tourism draws and benefits for our economy. Thousands of other workers now on furlough hold important and worthy positions as well, no doubt.

But with that kind of critical mass not working right now — and many aspects of private-sector lives clipping along just fine — the shutdown might have inadvertently done us a favor by identifying candidates for the fiscal knife.

If not, it has certainly shown voters some elected officials deserving of pink slips in the next election cycle.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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