The idiots in Congress

by David Esrati on October 6, 2013

in America in Crisis, Our Broken political system

As of yesterday, the idiots in Congress decided to turn their “government shutdown” into a paid vacation for government employees.

the House, in a rare Saturday session, voted unanimously to guarantee that federal workers would receive back pay once the shutdown ended, offering a promise of relief, if not an actual rescue, to more than one million government employees either furloughed or working without pay.

via In Surprise Announcement, Hagel Recalls Most Defense Department Workers – NYTimes.com.

Excuse me? What’s the point of the shutdown then? We’re not saving money, we’re not delivering government, and yet- we will pay people for work they didn’t do? With a Congress like this- who needs a government at all?

I’ve heard people suggest that picking 535 random Americans to go to Congress would probably give us at least the same level of incompetence as these idiots we have. WYSO did an interview with Congressman Mike Turner- who when asked if he would donate his pay- told the interviewer he was working and dodged the question. His main concern was getting people back to work at WPAFB, where of course, they spent our money buying the C-27J which the military didn’t want, so that brand new planes are now being delivered to the boneyard.

I was talking to a friend at an event last night about her attempt to sell her house. Unfortunately, since the government is “shut down,” loans aren’t being processed because the people at FHA aren’t working. But, now they will get paid.

Unfortunately, when Congress doesn’t work, we can’t fire them until election time, and it costs at least a million to unseat one of them. If this system seems flawed to you, join the club.

If this were a business, the CEO would fire Congress and hire people who could get the job done. But, in a “democracy” we have to suffer through this gross incompetence.

We need a government that doesn’t cost so much- either through excess or stupidity. But, the real question is how to get there?

  • Should we require IQ tests for people running for office, or for the voters?
  • Instead of holding elections where billions are spent with the media and on stupid yard signs and literature that says nothing- should we just switch to auctions where seats are given to the highest bidder and the money goes to pay down the debt?

Neither of the above are the answer, but the influence of money in politics has distorted our system into something the founding fathers would find un-American.

If Congress can’t keep government open, it should be clear that they are the ones no longer needed. And even though I thought Sharron Neuhardt and Josh Mandel were incompetent, a simple way to end these kinds of pissing matches is that the people that the sitting congress beat in their last election should be automatically appointed to their seats. The sitting Congress would lose all pay and accrued benefits as well. Representing the people is a public service, one that should come before any personal agenda. Unseating and replacing Congress with their last opponent in the case of a shutdown should end this malarkey once and for all.

Game changer.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

truddick October 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm

That sort of “throw them all out” pseudo-solution misses the point.  Until voters learn to discern among candidates and select competent ones, we’ll remain at the tender mercies of whichever of the two major parties gets to do the gerrymandering.

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djw October 6, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Truddick is exactly right. Comments like this:
If this were a business, the CEO would fire Congress and hire people who could get the job done. But, in a “democracy” we have to suffer through this gross incompetence. - 

Are frustrating in the midst of a post that focuses on a minor side issue, back-pay, and rails against “congress”. We have an opportunity to fire Congress every two years. People who rail against “politicians” and “Congress” and “Washington” aren’t helping with the hard work of discernment and accountability that we badly need to do. “Congress” isn’t uniformly responsible here. That’ lazy populism, and it works against, rather than supports, meaningful democratic accountability.
You’re better than this.

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djw October 7, 2013 at 7:15 am

And moreover: why do you take is as obvious–so obvious that you don’t even feel the need to construct an argument for the position–that Federal workers shouldn’t get paid for the time they’re missing? It’s not their own fault; they’re being prevented from going to work by external forces. If this goes on long enough, and they didn’t get back pay, that could easily end up causing serious economic problems for them. Missed mortgage payments can cause serious problems for people, esp. in a world with predatory banks, as you know. The amount of money that would “save” relative to the deficit is trivial, but the harm it could do to them in some cases is considerable, and might have ripple effects across the economy.
The notion that federal workers deserve to be punished for some bizarre reason is a mindset I associate with the Tea Party nutters who are causing this. No one, contrary to your implication, is arguing the point of the shutdown is to “save money” (that, in theory, is the point of the sequester). Everyone, including the craziest Republicans in congress, concede it will end up costing the government money. 

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joe_mamma October 7, 2013 at 7:37 am

“And moreover: why do you take is as obvious–so obvious that you don’t even feel the need to construct an argument for the position–that Federal workers shouldn’t get paid for the time they’re missing? It’s not their own fault; they’re being prevented from going to work by external forces.” – djw              
 
He doesn’t need to construct an argument because its common sense. 
 
“It’s not my fault” is a pretty poor argument.   I’m sure there are plenty of private sector employees who were RIFed and it wasn’t their “fault”.  The truth of the matter is that it is their fault.  They chose to work for the federal government.    That they will actually get paid for not doing anything is a slap in the face to the taxpayers who actually have to get up and go to work every day to pay for this b.s..    It makes about as much sense as spending money during a government shutdown to close the Grand Canyon, WW2 Memorial….

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djw October 7, 2013 at 8:14 am

I’m sure there are plenty of private sector employees who were RIFed and it wasn’t their “fault”.  The truth of the matter is that it is their fault.  They chose to work for the federal government.  

That’s not an argument. Look, I’m not suggesting they have a legal right to the lost money (in some cases they might, depending on the contract, but if it’s addressed in their contract that wasn’t going to be challenged). The government can choose to punitively leave a potentially big hole in the personal finances of their employees, or they can choose not to. The question is–what’ the right thing to do? The taxpayer argument is nonsense; tax rates won’t be effected either way. To the extent that it costs a bit more, it’ll come out of slightly more borrowing in the context of a rapidly falling annual deficit, when the federal government is borrowing money at effectively negative interest rates. And it won’t just be federal employees effected. When you cash-strap middle class people, they stop spending money, which has a substantial ripple effect throughout the economy, harming those businesses that rely on their consumption. Paying them is pretty econ is a no brainer, economically, if you care about the health of the economy and the job market overall. If you believe the Tea Party nonsense that government spending is actually harming the economy (note to David Esrati: you’re not dumb enough to believe that, are you? Because you kinda flirt with that nonsense here), I suggest you stop listening to demagogues and politicians and talk to an actual economist or two. They’re not particularly liberal, as a group, but most of them are at least reality-based.

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David Esrati October 7, 2013 at 8:34 am

@truddick- the point of the replace them all with the person they beat- will really screw up the advantage of gerrymandering- handing the seat over to the opposite party by fiat.

The reason we can’t hold a new election- like a parliamentary system is because our elections cost too much- and take too long. This was the quick way to change the game.

As to not paying the workers- that’s what happens in the real world- no work, no pay. It’s time for the government to enter the real world. Many people say the foreclosure crisis is partially because the feds guaranteed the loans- had the banks had to take responsibility- many loans wouldn’t have been made- and also- many foreclosures wouldn’t happen- since the best chance of retaining value is to compromise.

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John Ise October 7, 2013 at 9:49 am

Good post.  Redistricting reform, campaign finance reform, and instant run-off would all have a moderating impact on our political culture.  But let’s get this straight, this was a deliberate strategy by right-wing Repulicans to gut Obamacare.  They will punish the country to express their disapproval on Obama’s efforts to cover 30 million Americans.  They are 99% to blame for the shutdown and possible (gulp) default.  No debate there.
Don’t know if to laugh or just cry? 

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joe_mamma October 7, 2013 at 10:53 am

“That’s not an argument. Look, I’m not suggesting they have a legal right to the lost money (in some cases they might, depending on the contract, but if it’s addressed in their contract that wasn’t going to be challenged).” Djw
 
It certainly is.  Paying people for not doing anything productive is an economic waste.  It’s nothing more than taking dollars away from someone and giving it to another for nothing in return.  It’s the microeconomic equivalent of paying a housekeeper to not clean your house.  You are poorer while the housekeeper is better off. 
 
The taxpayer argument is nonsense…djw
 
That’s asinine.  We ostensibly pay taxes for their service.  They are not providing that service yet we pay them.  In the private sector that is theft.  
 
If you believe the Tea Party nonsense that government spending is actually harming the economy (note to David Esrati: you’re not dumb enough to believe that, are you? Because you kinda flirt with that nonsense here), I suggest you stop listening to demagogues and politicians and talk to an actual economist or two. They’re not particularly liberal, as a group, but most of them are at least reality-based. – djw
 
Disingenuous at best.  That’s not just tea party nonsense.  It depends on what economist you talk to whether they are a Keynesian or Austrian, Monetarist, Classical etc.  Regardless…the tea party, Austrian, Monetarist and Classical argument is not that government spending hurts the economy.  It is that EXCESSIVE and UNNECESSARY government spending hurts the economy.   

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djw October 7, 2013 at 12:29 pm

As to not paying the workers- that’s what happens in the real world- no work, no pay. It’s time for the government to enter the real world. – See more at: http://esrati.com/the-idiots-in-congress/10443/#comments
 
David,
You often present yourself as someone who is concerned about the future of our national economy, and the fate of the American middle class going forward, given the increasingly steep gap between the very rich and everyone else, and the way the system is rigged for them. Assuming that attitude is genuine, I hope you’ll think a bit harder about the kind of sentiment you’re expressing here and the politics it supports.
First, for starters, it’s a gross oversimplification. There are many jobs where this just isn’t true–if there’s some external reason (huge storm, earthquake, terrorist threat, whatever) that prevents people from coming to work for while, their pay is docked. Many people, in both the public and private sector, are treated as professionals, whose job is to do their job. I have many friends from college who work in the private sector who are treated like this, including scientists and technology people. I myself am treated like this–if my place of employment closed for a week I’d still be paid. My salary is annual, not weekly or hourly. I get evaluated, of course, on the basis of what I accomplish over the long term. I’m not closely monitored on a weekly/daily/hourly basis because my employer treats me like a serious professional who’ll do his job. One friend of mine who works as a scientist at a lab in Boston recently told me about a change in HR policy her employer made regarding vacation time: they stopped tracking it as an institution. You have to make arrangements with your team and immediate supervisor, of course, but they decided, since few people use all their vacation time anyway, and they trust their employees to take their job seriously, it was a waste of HR resources to keep track of it. People are trusted to take their jobs seriously and do them.
You seem to be claiming, as far as I can tell, that not only are Federal workers living in something other than the “real world” so to am I and many people I know. But this is nonsensical and arbitrary. There’s one real world, and we’re all living in it. Different parts of it are quite different from each other.  The part of the “real world” I describe is one that has a lot of evidence behind it, by the way, as a good management technique. People respond well to being treated as serious professionals, not nickeled and dimed and closely monitored in every aspect of their life. Industries that are more likely t o employ these kind of employment relations models have some of the highest productivity gains in the economy in recent years. This management model is not only more humane and decent than the alternative, for many sectors is works better.
But you’re right, of course, that this model is not employed in many parts of the “real world”. More and more jobs, especially in the service industry, are hourly, and hours remain uncertain, which means income remains uncertain, which makes life precarious and unpredictable in all kinds of bad ways. This is part of the terrible thing that’s happening to the middle class in this country.
But your position seems to be that because many people are treated this way, the remaining people who are still treated like serious professionals should be brought down to this level. I can’t imagine an argument that better fits with the basic economic interests of the 1% oligarchs who are currently running the show in this country. Getting the middle classes to resent each other, turn on each other, and fight to deny each other whatever pieces of middle class stability remain in their job is exactly what the economic elite want and need. (That’s why the goofy economic theories Joe_Mamma believes in are promoted; the contribute to exactly this kind of dynamic.) Whether it’s union v. non-union, private sector v. government, upper middle v. lower middle; turning our politics into these kinds of battles is, at best, a missed opportunity. A true advocate for the middle class would be doing the exact opposite of what you’re doing here: advocating for an economy that gives more people stable, predictable, dignity-respecting jobs, not fewer.
 
What’s happening in this country right now? A political party that represents the very, very rich is threatening to blow up the government and economy over a fake “debt crisis”* and because they’re angry about a policy that gives more middle class people access to  health insurance. To take your eyes off of that basic fact to complain that some of their victims aren’t being victimized as much as you’d like is both appalling and reactionary.
 
* This can’t be stressed enough. The annual deficit has been falling ever since the peak of the crisis, and 2014′s deficit will be about half of 2009′s with no further cuts. Our debt to GDP ratio is middle of the pack for developed countries, and lower than the UK, Canada, and Germany. The debt crisis is a useful tool for politicians to use to argue for cuts to government spending that helps middle class people, because it sounds plausible to people and if they actually argued for the cuts as a straightforward matter of policy no one would take them seriously. Don’t buy into this lie.

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David Esrati October 7, 2013 at 1:08 pm

@DJW- I’m not faulting the employees- except our congress. They are the ones that should be out of their jobs. Gross mismanagement. No reason to shut down the government if you are going to pay them anyway. Their failure is epic- and should be the end of their employment.

And- no, I don’t buy into the all government spending is bad. But, I do believe we spend way too much on a standing military and weapons of war. Cut it in half- and then in half again- and we’ll still spend more than anyone else. The payback on military spending is probably the lowest of all expenditures.

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djw October 7, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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David Esrati October 7, 2013 at 3:36 pm

@DJW- I believe that once you are elected you aren’t a D or an R anymore- you are a representative of the people. Both parties are at fault. I tend to blame the Republicans- but, the reality is, we’ve let the system get so corrupted by money, gerrymandering and egos- that singling one party out is just as lame. They aren’t supposed to be two teams playing tug-of-war here. We need to move to a more enlightened class of representatives.

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djw October 7, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Both parties are at fault.
How are Congressional Democrats at fault here, in this particular case, with respect to the shutdown and the looming debt ceiling? I’d really love for you to be specific about this. Given what the Republicans are doing, what would you have congressional Democrats do? You’re merely resorting to general observations about money in politics (which I largely agree with) and meaningless platitudes about teams and working together.  If you think they should give in to Republican demands, which are not only terrible policy on the merits, but would legitimate extortion as a normal part of legislative politics, then say so. I think that’s a pretty bad idea for fairly obvious reasons.
One party is threatening to blow up the world economy because they refuse to accept the results of the last election. The other is refusing to cave to extortion. How on earth do those look equal to you?

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David Esrati October 7, 2013 at 8:21 pm

@DJW- here’s why the dems are at fault- they can’t win elections, can’t put an end to this nonsense- and flail about year after year. How does a party that has a machine working to win the presidency- fail to use the same tools to win the house?

End of diatribe.

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djw October 7, 2013 at 8:45 pm

<em>they can’t win elections, can’t put an end to this nonsense- and flail about year after year. </em>
 
So, to be clear, you have no substantive criticism of how the currently elected congressional Democrats have handled the current Repbulican extortion effort. Your criticism is with their failure to win enough seats to retake the house in 2012, after an aggressive Republican-favored redistricting schemes tilted the election to the extent that the Democrats won the popular house vote but still lost by 30 seats. 
 
Here’s the thing: Democratic politicians are only allowed to vote once per election, same as you me, last I checked. It’s up to the rest of us to actually decide who wins. It’s our job. And it took you a full day of prodding to actually admit stop blaming “Congress” and “politicians” and admit that it’s the GOP who’s driving this nightmare, and the Democratic party’s blame lies only in not convincing enough citizens to vote for them such that they could prevent this. Perhaps if this is your view, you should reconsider your lazy, inaccurate habit of playing the “blame all sides equally” rhetoric and start taking the task of demanding democratic accountability at the Federal level as seriously as you (admirably, indeed crucially) do at the local level. If the Democrat’s sin in this situation is not winning elections, perhaps it would help them to stop spreading the toxic, Republican-enabling “both sides do it” narrative?

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Ice Bandit October 7, 2013 at 11:01 pm

 
…sorry to be one who loudly passes gas during the eulogy dear David, but the Old Bandito thinks this faux “government shutdown” is the feel good hit of the Summer.  The Old Bandito hasn’t stopped laughing since this circus sideshow started last week. And what’s not to chuckle about? You got the media waxing hysterical with flames flying from their sphincters complete with countdown clocks, while government non-prophets predict societal breakdown and cannibalism in mere days if their leviathan and wasteful spending privileges aren’t restored. Fact is, dear David, most of the government was already on autopilot.  Indeed the social security checks and food stamps were credited on time. And nurses aren’t ripping the cords from dialysis patients. Furthermore the NSA is reading our e-mails, the IRS is still auditing their political opponents, the TSA is feeling us up at airports and Justice is handing out AK-47s to the narcotrafficantes. The real danger of this hyperbole called a government shutdown is that the public will ask itself two questions; if government is so important why does it impact me in mostly a deleterious manner and why am I paying 50 percent of my hard-earned income to finance this costly dog and pony show? Government shutdown, dear David? We should be so lucky…

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David Esrati October 7, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Welcome back Ice!

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joe_mamma October 8, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I have many friends from college who work in the private sector who are treated like this, including scientists and technology people. I myself am treated like this–if my place of employment closed for a week I’d still be paid. My salary is annual, not weekly or hourly. I get evaluated, of course, on the basis of what I accomplish over the long term.- djw
 
Nonsensical comparison.  Your pay is dependent on your company delivering a service or product to the customer and getting paid for it.  If it stays shut down for any substantial amount of time and cannot deliver to its customers then things start to get cut or the company ceases to exist…  This is the exact opposite of what is happening with the government shutdown. 
 
“(That’s why the goofy economic theories Joe_Mamma believes in are promoted; the contribute to exactly this kind of dynamic.)” –djw
 
LOL!!!!!  Right!!!!  Wanting someone to actually produce something of value before they get paid is “goofy”.   I tell you what I’ll do your grocery shopping for you next week for 50 bucks.  Just send me the money.  When I don’t do the shopping and pocket the money I’ll tell you that you need to treat me like a professional. 
 
 
It’s obvious that you think you know a lot about a lot but you are not even grasping basic business and economic concepts. 

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David Esrati October 8, 2013 at 3:37 pm

@Joe- thanks for the ROFLOL.

 

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John Ise October 9, 2013 at 9:18 am

How should Obama respond to John Boehner?  Take a cue from (Heh) Willie Wonka @: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5QGkOGZubQ
 

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Bone October 9, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Dems can’t win in gerrymandered districts.

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Boro Bob October 10, 2013 at 7:43 am

I feel compelled to respond to djw’s use of the phase “tea party nutter”.    The tea party believes in the follows:
The constitution requires a limited role for the federal government (please read the tenth amendment)
The second amendment is a personal right just like all the other rights listed in the Bill of Rights.
The U.S. now has a “political class” that is out of control (if you think the dems give a rats ass about poor people than you are a “nutter)”.  If you don’t believe me then just look at the gerrymandered districts which are designed to prevent anyone other than the two parties to get elected.  This needs to change if our country is to survive.
The ACA has more to do with government control of our lives that it does with healthcare.
The natural order of things is for any government to grab as much power from the citizenry as they will allow it to take.  Accordingly, we need to actively work to limit its growth.  The ACA was the last straw for many of us and it has nothing to do with the color of the POTUS’s skin.
The government works for us not the other way around.
Last but not least, we believe in American Exceptionalism.  For those of you who don’t know what that means, it means that our constitution is unique among all forms of government in that it indicates our basic rights (live, liberty and pursuit of happiness) are given to us by our creator and not bestowed on us through an agreement between men (like the Magna Carta).  Since these rights are given to all of us by our creator, the government cannot decide to revoke them because a majority of the people (or political class) think its a good idea.
If believing in these principles makes me a “tea party nutter”, then I wear the label with pride.
Vote 3rd party.
 

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Rob Vigh October 10, 2013 at 9:42 am

Thank you Boro Bob!
After reading the initial article by David, I was sarcastically thinking: “We could limit the damaging effects of democracy by having some basic staples we are beholden too, maybe in the form of a Constitution or something.”
I am 36, I grew up under the impression that this country’s primary philosophical staple was freedom. The statue of Liberty, core lines of our constitution, the 4th of July etc. I love it and I love my country for it. I began to question it in my 20′s. Now in my 30′s, I firmly believe we have shifted our culture. From reading, writing and interacting with people, I believe the majority of people no longer value freedom as a core staple of philosophy in this country. Some people may not realize it. Some people argue that they only support forced systems of healthcare but still love freedom. How hypocritical. And I ask, do they need educated? Have they not learned cause and effect? And I try to pick my moments to teach people.
The point of my elaboration is, Congress is corrupt because of 2 major things. 1) The constitution is no longer a limiting document. We have found ways to circumvent it and have done unrepairable damage to it. 2) The culture no longer values freedom as paramount.
Much of the populace has been convinced the constitution needs to change with the times and that freedom is a different value now than it was then!
So, what do you have when freedom is not paramount and limiting documents are not recognized? You have competing forces for control of economic policy and regulation. Being a member of congress is no longer a service to protect the tenants of the above ideas, it has become a fierce competition to maneuver policy, influence regulation and maintain power. This is why the influence of money in Congress is so massive. Because it can have giant rewards for the investor of the money if the right policy/regulation/law or influence is implemented.
It is hard to propose a solution, as the problem is the populace. We no longer value freedom. We have decided other things are to be elevated above it and many people are not, still not or are unwilling to recognize the corruption that will follow. Want to change the country and fix Congress? Value Freedom.
DJW, I am curious. On your list of philosophical priorities, where do you place freedom? Where does it rank for you and what is more important?

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