The federal government is still shut down, which means it’s busier than ever finding ways to annoy you. “If you loved this country, you would not be closing it down,” said Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) last week. Scott was blaming Republicans for the government shutdown. As David Boaz points out, however, Scott was confused: The government and the country are not the same thing; Congress can’t shut down the country merely by failing to fund the government. [Cato Institute, October 3]
It turns out, however, that a shutdown government can be awfully pushy. As many news stories reported last week, the administration’s idea of shutting down means doing things the government doesn’t normally do, like putting up barricades to otherwise fenceless open-air spaces, telling people to leave privately-run establishments that sit on federal land but require no federal resources to operate, and creating “website not available” redirect pages instead of just leaving static content up on federal websites. The stories about National Park Service bullying keep coming from around the country:
• The Park Service told Joyce Spencer, 77, and Ralph Spencer, 80, they had to leave their house on Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. The Spencers own the house, but not the land. [KTNV, October 4]
• The Park Service told private boat operators that they could not operate their own boats launching from their own docks on the St. Croix River, which is designated a National Scenic Riverway. “[P]roviding visitor services within the riverway during a government shutdown is a breach of your (permit), and noncompliance with the shutdown could result in permits not being renewed during the next two-year cycle,” said the Park Service in a letter to boat operators. [TwinCities.com, October 3]
• The Park Service issued a notice forbidding charter boats, tour boats, fishing boats, and paddling boats from going out onto the Florida Bay—i.e., 1,100 square miles of ocean. [Miami Herald, October 3]
• The Park Service closed the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including the Foothills Parkway in Tennessee. That closure left some residents in Eastern Tennessee with few good options for getting around: “The closure caught locals by surprise and left the school district scrambling to alert parents that they would need to find a way to get their kids back home. And until the partial government shutdown ends, school buses will not run. That means parents will have to transport their children to and from school using treacherous ‘white knuckle routes.’” [Fox News, October 7]
• Armed park rangers issued John Bell a $100 ticket for taking a jog in Valley Forge National Historic Park. Bell saw a sign announcing the park’s closure, but he also saw other joggers and bikers. Also, there was no barrier blocking entrance to the park, so he figured the sign was meant for vehicles. He was wrong. Rangers were waiting to give him a ticket when he exited the park. [Fox News, October 8]
• A bus carrying senior citizens through Yellowstone National Park stopped briefly when a herd of bison passed by. The tourists got out to take pictures and were immediately confronted by armed park rangers who told them that taking pictures was recreating, which they could not do. Later, when the seniors—some from Japan, Australia, and Canada—were sent out of the park on a two-and-a-half-hour ride, they were told the bus could not stop for bathroom breaks. [Eagle Tribune, October 8]
• Volunteer Chris Cox of South Carolina spent a number of days mowing the grass and picking up trash on the National Mall because he thought veterans visiting the war memorial shouldn’t have to trip over banana peels. When Park Police eventually told him to leave, Cox said: “I’m not here trying to make headlines. I’m here trying to prevent headlines.” The officer replied: “Well, maybe there should be a picture of the trash cans overflowing in the newspaper. Maybe that would help us.” [Daily Mail, October 9]
Mark Steyn explains the point of these harassments: “[T]he thug usurpers of the bureaucracy want to send a message: In today’s America, everything is the gift of the government, and exists only at the government’s pleasure, whether it’s your health insurance, your religious liberty, or the monument to your fallen comrades.” [National Review, October 4]
[See also: “The List: Unnecessarily Shut Down by Obama to Inflict Public Pain,” by John Nolte, Breitbart.com, October 5.]
Some governments truly are shutdown. For example:
Cherry-picking the government you want is the how you get the government you want instead of the government you don’t want. The President and his allies keep telling people that using a funding bill to change Obamacare is out-of-bounds. But this crowd has also said that changing Obamacare without passing any bill at all is A-OK. According to the Congressional Research Service, the President has changed Obamacare five times on his own, including delaying the mandate on employers to provide qualifying health insurance. (He’s also signed 14 bills that amend the law, for a total of 19 changes since Obamacare became law.) [Washington Times, September 11]
In a letter sent to his Republican colleagues on August 21, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) quotes a Founding Father approving of the House of Representatives tying policy changes to funding decisions. The full quote comes from Federalist 58, written by James Madison and published February 20, 1788:
The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.
Now comes the Washington Post with an article by Valerie Strauss titled: “Stop Blaming James Madison for the Shutdown.” Since the word “shutdown” appears nowhere in either Madison’s Federalist 58 or Meadow’s missive, we’d have to agree. But here is University of Virginia professor J.C.A. Stagg, the article’s only source:
Rep. Meadows’s quote is also correct — but again only so far as it goes. None of the Founders doubted that the power of the purse could be an ultimate sanction in the hands of the House, though it would be impossible to prove that their understanding of this would have extended to the point of shutting down the entire government as opposed to refusing appropriations for particular policies.
Prof. Stagg is an authority on Madison, but he’s no authority on the last few weeks. To recap: Since September 20, the House of Representatives has passed at least a dozen bills to fund various parts of the government. That includes one bill that preserved funding for ObamaCare but made some changes to the program such as delaying the individual mandate and repealing the medical device tax. The Senate either amended and then refused to go to conference on the bills, or ignored them. The President said he would veto partial funding bills. [ABC News, October 9]
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid explained: “Why would we want to have the House of Representatives, John Boehner, cherry-pick what stays open and what should be closed?”
As a matter of logic, the House cannot simultaneously cherry-pick what government it wants to remain open while also shutting it down entirely. It’s the Senate and the President who want the budget to be an all-or-nothing choice in order to get one particular policy they want. If Strauss’s article was meant to be a debunking, it failed.
Government shutdowns used to be common. Contrary to President Obama and his supporters, it’s not unusual at all for policy choices to get mixed up in bills that fund the government. From Dylan Matthews’s shutdown rundown, we learn that between 1981 and 1990, when Democrats controlled Congress (mostly) and Republicans were in the White House, there were nine government shutdowns. Those shutdowns happened because Congress and the President couldn’t agree on major policy issues such as supporting the Nicaraguan Contras, foreign aid for Syria and El Salvador, the Fairness Doctrine, the MX missile, and welfare expansions. Also, the issue of abortion figured prominently in five shutdowns when Democrats controlled Congress and another Democrat, Jimmy Carter, was in the White House. [Washington Post, September 25]
Video of the week: Environmental exaggeration makes people poorer. Also, it doesn’t help the environment, explains Ivo Vegter, in this recent TEDx talk:
Canada is still beating the United States. For the eighth year running, the United States has less economic freedom than Canada, according to the Fraser Institute’s latest Economic Freedom of the World Report. Higher U.S. taxes and more U.S. regulations account for much of the gap, explains Jared Meyer:
Canada has a federal corporate tax rate of just 15 percent whereas the United States has a top rate of 35 percent, the highest among OECD countries. Canada’s federal debt-to-GDP ratio is 35 percent. It is targeting a ratio of 25 percent by 2021 thanks to a strong commitment to spending cuts from Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The U.S. ratio is 73 percent and rising. Mr. Harper has publicly pushed for approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would benefit the economies of both countries, while President Obama has done all he can to block the State Department’s permit. Canada also has an unemployment rate of 7.1 percent, lower than America’s.
From 1980 until 2000 the United States was generally rated the third freest country behind only Hong Kong and Singapore. Now it is #17. It is not only developed countries, such as New Zealand (#3), Switzerland (#4), and Finland (#7), overtaking the United States—developing countries are catching up. America’s ranking fell 10.5 percent from 2000 to 2011. Over that same period the world’s economic freedom rose by two percent. This is not a good sign for the future of America in an age of global competition.
U.S. rankings fell from the previous year in every category. According to Fred McMahon of the Fraser Institute, a co-author of the Index with Robert Lawson and Joshua Hall, the main factors that brought down America’s scores were overspending, weakened rule of law, and regulatory overkill.
If the United States continues to lag in economic freedom, its standard of living will also fall below those of the more economically free countries: “Those people living in the freest quartile of countries produce a GDP per capita that is on average eight times larger than those in the least free quartile. They produce two times as much per capita as those in the second freest quartile.” [Economics 21, October 9]
Is your state’s tax system competitive? Which states have tax systems that enhance (or harm the least) the business environment? According to the Tax Foundation’s 2014 State Business Tax Climate Index, the 10 best states are Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada, Alaska, Florida, Washington, Montana, New Hampshire, Utah, and Indiana while the 10 worst are Maryland, Connecticut, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Vermont, Rhode Island, Minnesota, California, New Jersey, and New York.
What’s gone wrong with HealthCare.gov? Wall Street Journal:
Information technology experts who examined the healthcare.gov website at the request of The Wall Street Journal said the site appeared to be built on a sloppy software foundation. Such a hastily constructed website may not have been able to withstand the online demand last week, they said.
Engineers at Web-hosting company Media Temple Inc. found a glut of stray software code that served no purpose they could identify. They also said basic Web-efficiency techniques weren’t used, such as saving parts of the website that change infrequently so they can be loaded more quickly. Those factors clog the website’s plumbing, Media Temple said.
The identity-checking foul-ups are also triggering problems for state-run exchanges, which rely on the federal system. The problem caused delays last week for users of MNsure, Minnesota’s exchange, as they waited for federal confirmation to create their accounts, said April Todd-Malmlov, MNsure’s executive director. She said the issue in her state was largely resolved by Friday. [Wall Street Journal, October 6]
One of the problems that surfaced this week, reports Sean Gallagher, is that “individuals whose logins never made it to the site’s database will have to re-register using a different username, as their previously chosen names are now stuck in authentication limbo.” Also: “[C]hanges made to profiles already within the system may not be saved either—a problem that is only indicated by a very non-descriptive error message.” [Ars Technica, October 8]
Remember, Obamacare requires you to enroll in the exchanges or pay a fine if you don’t receive qualifying health insurance from your employer. But enrollment hasn’t taken off yet, reports David Martosko:
Just 51,000 people completed Obamacare applications during the first week the Healthcare.gov website was online, according to two sources inside the Department of Health and Human Services who gave MailOnline an exclusive look at the earliest enrollment numbers. […]
The open enrollment period for Obamacare coverage is slated to last for six months. If the first week’s total were an indication of how many Americans will sign up during that time through the Obama administration’s website, its final tally would reach a paltry 1.32 million. […]
If the state-run exchanges were to have a similar response rate for six months, the national enrollment total would be approximately 2 million.
That number is less than 29 per cent of the 7 million the Obama administration would need, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in order to balance the new health insurance system’s books and keep it from financial collapse. [Daily Mail, October 10]
Democrats shut down the government in order to make sure this mess launched on time.