The Elbert Files: The political joke is on us
Friday, October 25, 2013 7:00 AM
“Boy, you’ve got to love this Congress,” said a loud voice behind me.
I kept walking east on Grand Avenue, pretending not to notice.
“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” the voice said, even louder.
It was my old friend K.C., the semiretired curmudgeon. He’d caught up with me now, and there was no ignoring him.
“How so?” I asked.
“Well, the government shutdown,” he said. “It’s the funniest show since “The Three Stooges Show” went off the air.”
“Well, it’s over now,” I said. “We can all get back to normal.”
“Normal,” he shouted. “There is no normal.
“What’s even goofier,” K.C. said, “is that Chuck Grassley and a bunch of other folks who call themselves fiscal conservatives voted to do something that no sane business owner would ever do.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“You know about the 800,000 federal employees who were sent home on Oct. 1?”
“Actually,” I said, “the number is about half that. I read somewhere that 350,000 furloughed workers at the Department of Defense were called back during the first week.”
“That’s my point,” K.C. said. “The government had seen this train wreck coming for months and they couldn’t figure out how many people they needed to keep essential services operating. What kind of business operates like that?
“You worked for a business that laid people off and had furloughs, didn’t you?” he asked.
“Well, yes,” I said. “I worked for Gannett, which owns The Des Moines Register. They went through several downsizings with layoffs, buyouts and furloughs. It wasn’t their finest hour, but the whole industry was in transition.”
“Well, did they ever furlough a bunch of people on Monday, and then call half of them back on Wednesday?” K.C. asked.
“No. But business is different from government,” I said.
“Sure,” K.C. said. “Businesses are not run by a bunch of boneheads. If they were, they’d be bankrupt in less than a year.
“I just find it strange,” he continued, “that when people run for office they say that they want to make government more like business. But once they get elected, they act like they don’t understand basic economics.
“When you got furloughed at the Register, what happened?”
“I had to take a week off without pay. One time, it was two weeks.” I said.
“And what happened during that time?” K.C. asked.
“I could not go into the office, or do anything work-related at home,” I said. “I could not have any contact with my office. No talking with sources. No checking voice messages. No email.”
“You know what happened with federal employees?” he said.
“I saw that some of them went back to work, even though there was no authorization to pay them. I thought that was a little strange. Nice, but strange.”
“And do you know what’s going to happen to their pay?”
“I read that Congress voted back pay for everyone, including the 400,000 or so who stayed home the whole time.”
“What business do you know that would send people home to save money and then turn around and pay them?” he asked.
“You know what’s even goofier?” K.C. said. “It was the fiscal conservatives, including your buddy Grassley, who made sure they all got paid.”
“But Grassley didn’t even vote for the compromise to pay the bills and keep the government running,” I said.
“Strange, ain’t it?” K.C. said. “The guy who spent his career rooting out government waste voted to pay people for not working, but he wouldn’t vote to pay people who are legitimately owed money by the government.”
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