Lots of elected officials seem surprised that when the government shuts down, unpleasant things come to pass. A friend of mine planned a cool road trip to the national parks out in Montana, South Dakota and other places with historic sites and parks. He couldn’t get close to Mt. Rushmore or Glacier National Park, got snowed in somewhere and decided to come home through clear areas of Canada. He didn’t know the parks would be closed and he lost out on a nice vacation. No fault on him, just bad timing.
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Some legislators evidently didn’t think through the part where a constituent would actually be really inconvenienced by the shutdown or if they did, they determined that the pain was the price others might have to pay for their decisions. No pain, no gain as they say in gyms the world over. How much pain relative to how much gain, of course, is the yardstick by which one measures pain and gain. One person’s pain threshold relative to the perceived gain is really what it’s all about.
The pain that Republicans projected from Obamacare could only be offset by the gain they projected from getting rid of that pain. In other words, to achieve the gain of no-Obamacare, they’d have to inflict the pain of a government shutdown. That meant furloughing nearly a million “non-essential” federal employees (whose toil and service wouldn’t be missed by the majority of Americans, apparently). Non-essential to many if not most of us means those anonymous drones doing research on the sex lives of bears as John McCain loved to point out during the 2008 presidential election. Or the folks who study the entrails of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico trying to find out levels of toxic waste that can be tolerated before a cataclysm ends shrimp life as we know it. Compared to the pain of Obamacare, that’s pretty non-essential, they had to assume. One must also assume that they didn’t really consider the potential for pain from not being able to access specialized treatment from the institutes of health. Better that pain now for the few than the pain of the many from Obamacare later, they had to believe.
The pain of thousands of foreign tourists not being able to go to the Smithsonian Museums was acceptable. They don’t vote, so they don’t count. The pain of hundreds of WWII vets not getting into their monument in D.C. evidently was not acceptable and hadn’t even been thought of, evidently. And that particular pain, call it the pain heard round the country and across the generations suddenly began to hit home.
“Whatever we do, we’d better not do that,” they said. “The gain to us from that pain is just not worth it. This could make us look really bad. We’d better change the rules. Non-essentials get furloughed and lose their pay. Military on active duty get paid. Period, no more exceptions. But what about the death benefits for soldiers coming back from Afghanistan in flag-draped coffins? The government is supposed to pay for those benefits. We’ll look really bad if we don’t make that exception. But no more exceptions. Well, unless they are things that would make us look really bad. We can’t shut down the air traffic control people. Ouch. That would hurt too much. And we’d better re-open that Women-Infant-Child nutrition thing or we’ll look like we’re trying to starve poor women, infants and children. But no more exceptions. And we’d better make it so all those nearly a million federal employees get paid pretty soon down the road, otherwise their pain may come back to bite us. And what if somebody got really sick or died from bad meat or fish because the federal inspectors weren’t on the job. Actually, maybe those people are essential after all. But no more exceptions. And we still have to get the president to negotiate.”
If the president won’t negotiate by deferring the Individual Mandate just in the interest of fairness to match the deferral granted to businesses, maybe we ought to hold out for having him withdraw the deferral for businesses – in the interest of fairness. Yeah, there’s a good, fair idea. But wait. We don’t want fairness that way. That wouldn’t be fair, because then business would feel all the pain of Obamacare which is what we’re against. What to do?
Remember all those drones studying bear and shrimp sex? Let’s really put it to them. Let’s cut them all off forever, get some pain going here so we can reap the gain later. And all those mopes that run libraries and make copies of non-essential stuff like Social Security forms and Medi-Care bills and maybe clean air and water regulations, they aren’t very heroic or essential. Let’s knock them down and give them some pain to think about, so maybe they’ll decide to get more essential or just go away which would be even better, because they probably don’t vote for us anyway.
Or maybe we could re-open the government for a few weeks, just until we get that debt limit business taken care of. We could drive a stake into the heart of Obamacare later and not look like we’re trying to wish a bunch of pain on innocent citizens who might think we look bad and then vote for the other guys next year. So we’ll suffer a little pain now but it will be for the big gain later. Yeah, that’s how to do it, because as they say, “no pain, no gain.”
Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.