President Clinton’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night called for bipartisanship to resolve significant issues like the balanced-budget and current spending gridlock. He’s not likely to find eager ears on either side of the aisle because this is an election year and he tops the list of candidates.
What the president said was right, regardless of how few Democrats or Republicans listen. Those who govern should find ways to make government operate even when partisan differences make agreements difficult. Many important federal programs and agencies lurch along on a day-to-day basis in the hogtied negotiations.
The idea of gridlocking government in the name of balancing the budget is false economy. It produces inconvenience, anger, frustration and lost labor, but it doesn’t necessarily save money.
Two Associated Press articles released Tuesday described the futility of trying to run the government the way many members of Congress and at least some members of the administration prefer.
One article described the status of the federal farm programs generally in the current situation. There’s no savings to taxpayers in place. If the Congress and the president can’t come to terms on a farm program (also known as crop subsidies) payments won’t stop; subsidies will revert to a 1949 law with strict limits on acreage and subsidies pegged at twice the current levels. That could mean less production of major farm commodities than the nation needs and more outlays of cash for not growing what we need.
Another article discussed the federal Bureau of Mines. It was supposed to close down Jan. 8, but when the Congress and president couldn’t agree on the Department of Interior Appropriation the $58 million shutdown funds became hung in limbo. The employees who were supposed to be terminated kept working because they were deemed essential for reasons not entirely clear to even the agency’s director. Employees whose jobs were supposed to continue in other agencies couldn’t be transferred.
Now, the agency continues operations. If the government shuts down again Friday because the president and Congress can’t at least agree on temporary spending measure for 1996, it’s expected that the bureau will cease business without actually closing as Congress intended. A spokesman for the bureau described the situation as standing “firmly planted … on the cutting edge of chaos.”
Both Congress and the president receive abysmally low marks in public opinion polls measuring their effectiveness in governing. The strategists in both parties may find some perverse comfort in knowing that the other side also is doing badly. Average Americans, however, mostly think of it as failure and hope that grown men and women soon will begin governing the job for which they were hired by the people.