As I remember it, it became acceptable to call Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon “The Imperial President” when a new apparel design he reportedly wanted for the uniformed Secret Service would have made them look those fabled palace guards.
Even before last week’s government closures, I was thinking we should all just begin referring to Washington, D.C., as “The Imperial Capital.” That’s because the Census Bureau had reported that household incomes in the nation’s capital climbed by 23.3 percent between 2000 and 2012, rising to an inflation-adjusted $66,583.
Incomes are down in 46 states. And two of the four states where household incomes were up likely grew from federal wealth. Maryland and West Virginia did grow some, and when you add in the surrounding D.C. suburbs – where the K-Street lawyer-lobbyists and crony capitalist government contractors go to sleep so well at night – the gap between “the nation” and the “Imperial Capital” is even more dramatic.
This reality was very much on my mind this past week as we went through another so-called “government shutdown” drill. Last time we went through this (for sequester), one of the fear tactics used was the threat to remove all USDA meat inspectors from the job and thereby shutdown the entire meat and poultry industries.
This time, to use some of the popular shutdown rhetoric, food safety was not “taken hostage.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), federal Centers for Disease Control and Inspection (CDC) and USDA all made pretty responsible decisions about who and what is “essential.” Food Safety News sought out experts not currently in government for informed perspective on what’s happening.
In the meantime, we need different words for explaining what is occurring. It certainly is not a “government” shutdown.
The “government” is the House, Senate, White House, and the courts, and it all continues to “function.” Unlike France’s “Third Republic,” our government has not taken the last train out of Paris or anything like it. It has just allowed some “lapses in appropriations,” resulting in shutdowns of “nonessential functions.”
In other words, none of us likes the “outcomes” at this point, but the government we put there is functioning.
Just because “The Imperial Government” is failing does not mean what it cannot accomplish is all that unique. Complex legislative puzzles are solved every year in the 50 states. Some are better at it than others, but all play through their legislative seasons until the work is done. Some require special sessions and some deal-making with the governor.
In Washington state, they used to call these “five corners” negotiations because they involved the majority and minority leadership from each house and the governor’s office. A “five corners” veteran once told me that being tapped for one of those sessions was worse than being called for jury duty just as you are ready to go on vacation.
In Oregon, Gov. John Kitzhaber recently called a special session over a handful of legislative hot potatoes, including taxes and state pensions, and even one preventing local initiatives from overturning state seed policy, with a pledge he’d sign them all but also a promise to veto them all if one or more failed to pass.
Gov. Kitzhaber ran the table. By contrast, in “The Imperial Government,” they kick the table over and then all go pout in the corner.
For the short term, our federal food-safety agencies can get through this without much harm. But when we talk to outside experts, we do hear plenty of concern about what happens if this goes on much longer.
This weekend, it appears that, in the House at least, there is bipartisan support for a pledge to eventually pay all furloughed federal employees. Maybe it’s time to fire up that old food-safety coalition for an appropriation to keep the food-safety system intact and operating until the imperials get through their snit. They probably don’t care one way or the other, but out here in “the nation,” we’d feel better knowing our food was safe.
Oh, one more thing: When you include the District’s tony suburbs in the numbers, the household income in the land of our political elite is $88,233. That’s $36,862 more than households in “the nation” and tops the 25 most populous areas in the country.
No wonder they think they can mess with us.© Food Safety News