THE SHUTTING DOWN of our beloved federal government is making me very nervous. Like many of you, I can't imagine how we're going to survive if 800,000 nonessential federal workers aren't doing their jobs.
To tell the truth, I don't know where the media get off calling these public servants "nonessential." Distributing federal peanut-growing quotas is pretty darn essential, if you ask me, and who's going to do that if not employees of the US government? Who's going to write the Food and Drug Administration's rule requiring labels on sunglasses? Who's going to pay McDonald's to advertise Chicken McNuggets overseas?
Without hundreds of thousands of government employees reporting for work every day, who would force Fenway Park to get rid of its Marlboro Man billboard and replace it with a beer ad? Who would keep building those grand public housing projects that have given our nation's urban spaces so much charm and character? Who would carry out the "Mushroom Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Order" set forth in Volume 7, Section 1209, of the Code of Federal Regulations? And who would train agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in the finer points of gassing religious nonconformists?
Somebody has to do these things. Too bad Newt didn't think about that before provoking a crisis.
Fortunately, there are some rays of light cutting through the gloom. The IRS hasn't stopped collecting tax payments, which is certainly a great comfort. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is staying open. (Whew!) And the president and first lady aren't being asked to give up their servants.
According to the Associated Press, the Clintons continue, government closure notwithstanding, to enjoy the services of: two chefs, two butlers, two ushers, three housekeepers, four engineers, and two electricians. That's in addition to about 90 additional staffers, including "telephone operators, spokesmen, budget experts, and senior staff." I'm glad someone had the good sense to realize that even in dire times, a president needs spokesmen, budget experts, and butlers.
Where did this business of "nonessential" come from? The implication that the US government would employ any nonessential workers, let alone 800,000 of them, is downright insulting. Was it "nonessential" federal employees who drafted USDA Regulation No. 0581-AA99 (United States Standards for Grades of Tomato Sauce)? When the Consumer Products Safety Commission spent 5,113 hours and $300,000 to redesign pails so toddlers couldn't climb into them -- was that nonessential?
Let's get one thing clear. Everyone who works for the federal government is essential, or else they wouldn't have been hired. Apparently the Republicans don't understand that. Well, they'll learn. Americans aren't going to let them get away with reining in federal spending. They may have won a huge mandate last November, but that doesn't give them the right to try to balance the budget in seven years. If balancing the budget was so all-fired important, don't they think President Clinton would have done it already?
Somebody ought to explain to Newt that it costs money to run a world-class federal government. Take those National Endowment for the Arts subsidies that make it possible for artists to get naked on stage and smear chocolate on themselves. First off, there's the subsidy itself. Then there's the salary of the government employee (the essential government employee) who processes the applications. Plus the cost of printing those applications. These things add up.
That's why it took $1.53 trillion to run the federal government last year. If you want a federal bureaucracy that is efficient, intelligent, and productive, you have to be willing to pay for it. But the mean-spirited Republicans are willing to let the budget climb only another $358 billion by 2002 -- a 24 percent increase. Draconian! No wonder the president accused the GOP on Tuesday of "deep and unwise cuts in education, technology, the environment, Medicare, and Medicaid."
Over the past seven years, the US government spent $9.5 trillion. Over the next seven years, if Newt and his government-slashing Mongols carry out their plan, the US government will spend $12.1 trillion. What cheapskates. Hiking spending by $2.6 trillion is going to be enough to raise Medicare outlays only from $4,800 per senior this year to $6,700 per senior in 2002. If that isn't intolerable, what is?
If Newt and the Republicans get their way, Medicare will be preserved and federal spending will rise, but the budget will be balanced, taxes will come down a bit, and Washington will no longer spend money it doesn't have. Obviously they must be stopped. Which is why, although I'm very sad and worried about our wonderful federal government being shut down, I'm so proud of President Clinton for doing the right thing. I won't forget what he did this November when next November comes around.