Tuesday, January 04, 2000


Budget - dumb... and dumber

LOOKING AHEAD by Wally Dobelis

This yearend brings up some gripes. I don't know who are the dumber, the politicians who think they can fool us, or we, for letting them do us in.
Herewith, for your consideration, an idea for political reform that will save the day.
Take, for instance, the Federal budget comedy. Act Two is too long. If throwing snowballs had not acquired a negative image recently, I would suggest bringing some of this wonderful flaky stuff into the White House and the halls of Congress to give the negotiators a shot of how the public feels. But that would not work anyway - the alleged perpetrators are on vacation, while the public suffers.
Meanwhile, the national parks are closed to us, during holidays, when we need them. That is cruel and dumb - the French and Germans who brought dollars to spend at Yellowstone will take them back home. Visitors who came to see the Vermeer exhibit in Washington were cheated. Certain public servants got a bonus; they are having an extra vacation during the holiday period, to be paid for when the thing is over. Other public servants have had to get food stamps to survive, while they are working without pay to service the sick in hospitals. It is sickening.
We are so clever when it comes to locking up the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian and Bosnian-Serb-Croatian negotiators in non-stop talks, with no relief until an agreement is reached. How about locking up our negotiators, the President and his team, Speaker Gingrich, Senators Kasich, Domenici and Dole, until they have a budget? And, most importantly, do not let them use the bathroom unless they make a positive contributions. That method worked very well in the old Werner Erhard EST assertiveness training sessions. A negotiator should not be able to get by just by sitting there and saying Nyet, the old Andrei Gromyko technique (Stalin's old UN representative, he was known to his colleagues as "Iron Pants"), until everyone had to go home and feed the kids. Of course, in Gromyko's case there was an excuse; saying Da would have shortened his career, by a head.
Our lawmakers must be made responsible for taking actions, not just positions. Maybe there is a rule of political posturing that requires that the public suffer some measure of pain or discomfort so that the politician can prove that his position is to be taken seriously ("See, I'm working so hard in your interests that it hurts you.") I have a feeling that some senior Reps and Dems get together, during the budget crisis, with their opinion pollers/makers and ask: "Have we got their attention, or should we punish them a few more days, to show that we are sincere?" Look people, that's not what we pay you for. The old EST idea is better, keep the pols locked up until some agreement is reached. And then our elected officials could act without fear of public retaliation. Speaker Gingrich could tell the freshmen and President Clinton could answer to the AARP: "Honest, fellas, I did what I could, but I could not hold the line any longer. I really, really, really had to go!" Could any voter hold a compromise made under such conditions against one's elected representative? Wouldn't this be a way of letting legislators vote their consciences, without fear of repercussions at the hustings? Look, if anyone wants to run with this thought and try to write an Amendment to the Constitution regarding budget passage rules, you can have my patent and my blessings.Something has to be done to increase the productivity and decrease the bickering among our elected officials, there is just not enough "quality time" in the legislative playpens. This is a non-partisan proposal, applicable to state legislatures also. Governor Cuomo's last budget was 69 days late, and Governor Pataki's first budget, promised tobe on time, was 68 days late. Not enough improvement.

One lawmaker I would not let into the negotiations is the naysayer Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. Well, maybe, if the bathroom rule is enforced. This man subverts virtue to his own ends. Most pork-barrel recipients hide their gains in shame while he brags about them. To borrow a Gramm quote from the New York Times: when asked about the hypocrisy of getting Federal funds for Texas while cutting Federal budgets elsewhere: "If the Senate in its lack of wisdom voted to build a cheese factory on the Moon, I would fight to see that the company that designed it was a Texas architectural firm, I would want the milk to come from Texas cows and...propose that we build the distribution system in College Station, Tex [he taught economics there, at Texas A&M, 1867-78]." The champion of cutting waste, the author of the unsuccessful 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget (by 1991) and Emergency Deficit Control Act, he indicates that he would be willing to have the Senate generate a totally wasteful project, as long as he gets a share of the money for his backers. That is a lot different than fighting to get an economically justified project for Texas. No wonder the Dallas magnates gave him $4.1 million campaign contributions in one hotel fundraiser, a world record; no wonder he has a $20 million campaign fund. Sen, Gramm is clever, he has good ideas (he was the only one to offer a 1993 Health Reform proposal that incorporated tort reform, to cut legal expense waste); as to his political ethics, I leave it up to you.
It is surprising that the Congress has not implemented the old technique which all of us sitting in committees and boards have absorbed automatically, with mother's milk. When someone comes up with a unique "Why don't we" idea, he or she gets appointed to head a committee to carry the idea forth. No staff, no budget, just assemble volunteers and run with it. Periodically the group queries the committee head about progress. If it flies, we go to Step B. If the project is unworthy, there is no progress and it dies. The same evaluation technique should apply in Congress, particularly the part about no phony staff/budget/ travel expenses boondoggle. Washington, Albany, NYC, please note.
It is sad to see so many stores and restaurants closing in our neighborhood. I particularly note the departure of Penthouse Wine on 3rd Avenue and 19th Street. Lars Larsen used to treat his neighbors to wine tastings for 19 years, at street festivals and neighborhood occasions. In this atmosphere Mayor Giuliani's hints to thrifty shoppers, right after the Christmas sale fiasco appear particularly inappropriate. As reported in the Daily News, he suggested that recipients of gifts select the unsuitable ones, return them for full refund and rebuy the same items in right sizes in the post-holiday 50 percent off sales, saving the extra credit for future purchases. Sen. Phil Gramm, would you care to comment on the ethics involved?

nys budg ddue 3/31 passed 6/7

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