Domestic Pain, International Gain

 | Apr 23, 2013 | 7:45 AM EDT
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Are you disgusted yet?

We have a government that is furloughing employees of our air traffic control system, inconveniencing millions of Americans and hurting our overall economy. Both political parties seem to have given up on our domestic welfare. Meanwhile, foreign aid spending has gone up every year since 2007.

Why is it that the sequester cuts seem to be hitting our domestic economy hardest? Why must we ruin our national parks, our air traffic control system, our workplace and food inspection systems, without cutting back on foreign spending?

Our government recently announced that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) would not furlough any personnel because of the sequester. During the 17 years that I worked for the agency (I retired in 1998), whenever there was a threat of a government shutdown, we had to make plans to furlough employees. Not this time. USAID seems to be exempt.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, there have not been any cuts in the budgets for foreign operations OR foreign aid. USAID operates in the United States and overseas and has thousands of employees and contractors. It is our main agency for administrating and disbursing foreign aid. Nor have I heard about trimming the number of bases we have in Germany or the German nationals that we pay there to do support work.

I do not care which of our miserable political parties is responsible for this mess. It is why a vast majority of Americans hold both parties in Congress in contempt. President Obama and his press secretary took cynicism to a new high even for Washington, D.C., today by making this disgusting state of affairs into a partisan political issue, rather than managing the FAA budget to prevent the furloughs of air traffic controllers.

Granted, the president did bow down to general aviation by retaining controller support for 150 airports that have very little traffic other than general aviation travel. As we know, those corporate jets have to be taken care of first -- even though the president has railed against the tax advantages that their owners enjoy. The president is supposed to be a man of the people, but when push came to shove, he shoved the public under the bus on this issue.

The president has closed White House tours, while keeping calligraphers and many chefs on staff. Has the president toned down his grand entertaining? Has he told the First Lady that she should travel less or with fewer people accompanying her? Any sacrifices made by the First Family can be nowhere near those now facing ordinary citizens who pay taxes and often work multiple jobs.

Nor are the recipients of U.S. foreign aid suffering one bit, and the people who dish out the money are doing just fine. For many years both parties have been more interested in what goes on outside U.S. borders than within them. This is why our roads, bridges, dams, and levies are falling apart and why we do not have enough airports, runways, or new highways. It is why national parks are going to be open less frequently.

The federal government's failure to protect its citizens could be seen in Texas last week, where many people were killed in a fertilizer plant explosion. The government failed to conduct real inspections of the plant, while Congress wrote the laws so that the plant could get by with not reporting how dangerous it was. Signs of our regulatory neglect have been accumulating for years. They were seen in the more than 20 people who died in 2011 from poisoned cantaloupes – one of many such outbreaks since 1990, which have included salmonella in ground beef, turkey, spinach, and peanut butter.

Over the years, Congress has hollowed out many federal agencies. While highly paid management positions have been saved, lower-level inspector-type jobs eliminated or turned over to industry to do under the guise of self-regulation.

Federal agencies did not catch Bernie Madoff or the mortgage debacle. They were late to recognize how many of our banks, investment banks and even insurance companies were in danger of going out of business. Not one important financial executive has been charged with any crime, and few if any have had to disgorge money to settle claims against those whom they injured.

Do you see a pattern yet?

Now, hapless Americans face a summer vacation season in which they can fly in total discomfort and find out when they land that the federal or state park they wanted to visit was closed.

Meanwhile, according to the Web site Military Golf Course Guide, the U.S. military runs more than 225 golf courses worldwide. How many of those facilities the military has shut down because of the sequester?

When I worked for USAID, my posts were mostly overseas. When congressional delegations would visit, it was as if representatives of the Roman emperor were arriving. Even way back then, domestic affairs bored our Congress. These folks just love the action of running the empire overseas. The Department of State protects some 285 diplomatic missions. The Department of Defense has more than 1000 military bases overseas, and some analysts think we spend over $170 billion a year to maintain them.

Where is the disclosure by the President and Congress as to how they are trying to limit our pain here in the homeland?

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