My girlfriend works for the Forestry Department doing complex scientific experiments that I don’t understand. Yesterday morning, she was assured via conference call that her department would keep operating during any federal shutdown. Later that afternoon, they told her she would report to work this morning to be furloughed. All the Forestry technicians in the field have been recalled. Those of her colleagues who happened to be running experiments that required techs in the field are, to put it in scientific terms, hosed. Maybe the Forestry employees will get paid for the period of time in which they couldn’t do their jobs anymore, and maybe they won’t. 800,000 Americans are out of work today, but at least the government is leaving my health insurance alone.
I spoke too soon. The House has passed a Senate bill to make permanent the Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making less than $400,000 a year and prevent large cuts to defense and military spending. It was ugly. Congress has not voted on a bill on New Year’s Day since 1951, when it approved spending for the Korean War. That adventure was a resounding success compared to what happened yesterday, when 151 House Republicans voted against a bill that required hail-Mary negotiations even to reach the floor. To give you an idea of what John Boehner had to contend with, here’s Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina:
I have read the bill and can’t find the spending cuts—even with an electron magnifying glass. It’s part medicinal, part placebo, and part treating the symptoms but not the underlying pathology.
Daniel Webster he is not.
My favorite part of the slow news period between Christmas and the New Year is the Times’s daily countdown to fiscal armageddon. This morning, Harry Reid pretty much told us all to buy canned food. According to the Times, he spent much of his day on the Senate floor “excoriating” House Republicans for their refusal to consider a bill extending the Bush tax cuts on households that make less than $250,000 a year. Thus excoriated, the House stayed home. We are going over that cliff. Having imposed a future penalty no one wanted in order to force itself to come to agreement, Congress has argued its way into penalization. The legislative branch of the US government is like an addict who flushes his drugs down the toilet and then drowns.
The Senate Majority Leader noticed a hole in our politico-media system yesterday, and he exploited the hell out of it. In an interview with the Huffington post, Harry Reid said he had spoken to a former Bain investor who said Mitt Romney “didn’t pay any taxes for 10 years.” Of course, Reid couldn’t say who the investor was or how said investor ran across a decade’s worth of Romney’s tax returns, just as he couldn’t say that the allegation was true. But he could say some other stuff:
He didn’t pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that’s true? Well, I’m not certain. But obviously he can’t release those tax returns. How would it look? You guys have said his wealth is $250 million. Not a chance in the world. It’s a lot more than that. I mean, you do pretty well if you don’t pay taxes for 10 years when you’re making millions and millions of dollars.
In keeping with its code of ethics, The Huffington Post published that stuff immediately.
Remember on Friday when we declared American politics too selfishly broken to address the basic management of the United States? It turns out we were wrong, because the President and congressional leaders reached a deal on the national debt ceiling last night. The package still needs the support of both houses—including several notoriously intransigent members—but tentatively, maybe even presumably, the lights are going to stay on. “Sausage making is not pretty,” Diane Feinstein told the Times. “But the sausage we have, I think, is a very different sausage from when we started.” And in the end, isn’t that what we all what from our food? Different?