Across America this holiday season, families are gathering. Elder statesmen will entertain children with tales of how difficult life was in the old days. “We used to walk barefoot three miles to school in the snow” and all that. For my part, I took a bus.
But one event stands out in my life -- an earthshaking occurrence that all of us who were alive in the mid-1990s were lucky to have survived. I can’t wait to tell my grandchildren tales about the harrowing government shutdown of ’95.
For those too young to recall, because President Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress couldn’t agree on spending priorities, the federal government shut down between Dec. 16, 1995, and Jan. 6, 1996. Several hundred thousand federal employees were furloughed.
At one point during the carnage, I went to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, to walk on a popular trail along the water. But, because of the shutdown, the gate was locked and nobody was allowed in.
And, actually, that’s it. That’s the only way this shutdown touched one American’s life.
The fact is, for all its trillions in spending, the federal government is a non-factor in most of our lives. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have influence. Recently a parent in Johnson City, N.Y. prompted a federal investigation by complaining that cheerleaders performed at boys’ basketball games but not at girls’ games. Washington relishes doing silly things such as counting cheerleaders.
But on a day-to-day basis, few of us know or care whether the federal government is operating. So in case you haven’t noticed, the big story these days is that Congress adjourned and left town without passing 10 of their 12 spending bills.
That means that for the time being, and probably for all of next year, the government is operating under a continuing resolution. Federal agencies are being funded at last year’s level. There is, in effect, a spending freeze. It will save taxpayers $17 billion in 2007.
That’s good news for all of us -- except lawmakers who want to spend our tax money. “The American people are tired of the political games being played in Washington. Governing is not about putting points on some political scoreboard; governing is about working together in the best interests of the American people,” Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., complained.
Well, senator, with all due respect, the games people are tired of are the spending games.