The joys of divided government

Thursday - 4/26/2012, 2:00am EDT

If our founding fathers (and mothers) had decided to streamline government with a unicameral legislative branch — instead of a separate House and Senate — federal and postal workers and government retirees would be toast. At least this year.

Being unicameral apparently works. At least for Nebraska. For the District of Columbia, maybe not so much.

But for 49 states, a less streamlined legislative branch with two separate houses is the way they chose to go.

The current U.S. Congress — Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans running the House — is the stuff of dreams for advocates of checks and balances. They say divided government is often a good thing. But for whichever parts control the White House, a divided Congress, or one controlled totally by the opposition is the stuff of nightmares. Our large (535 members of Congress and their staffs) provides employment for lots of people.

Divided government means that lots of bad things (and lots of good things) that might be done don't get done simply because of politics.

Since the Republicans took over the House, federal workers have been a prime target of budget-cutters. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Many of the leading advocates of a smaller, less expensive government — Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), John Mica (R-Fla.) and Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) to name a few — are very smart, dedicated and sincere in their beliefs. Some came into office knowing next to nothing about how the executive branch operates. But people who have seen them in action say they are quick studies and solid in their beliefs. One, Rep. Ryan of Wisconsin, is said to be on the longer short-list of potential vice presidents for Mitt Romney.

The House would love to whittle down the size of the federal government, cutting employment, reducing retirement benefits and making changes in the government's generous health benefits program, which House members and their families enjoy too.

The Democratic-controlled Senate went along with President Obama's two-year federal pay freeze although it probably would have rejected the idea if proposed by President George W. Bush. That aside, it has made it clear that it won't go along with many — if any — cuts being worked up by the House. On Tuesday it directed the Office of Personnel Management and U.S., Postal Service to expedite its retirement claims processing.

Just this week Rep. Ross (R-Fla.) moved to slash government travel/conference funds in the wake of GSA's ill-fated Las Vegas session in 2010. His plan would eventually reduce funding by 75 percent. There could be some blowback for merchants and business types in Orlando, a favorite conference spot and scene of many federal gatherings. Irked at the attention GSA has brought Las Vegas, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada has advised colleagues and the media to get a life and do a reality check on their real or feigned outrage.

Former Governor Mitt Romney, the apparent GOP presidential nominee, said as President, he would rein in federal pay and ensure that the government doesn't pay its workers more than their counterparts in the private sector. He's said to be particularly interested in the federal pension program.

Some experts predict lots of action because of the November elections. Others say it will mostly be talk, but no action, because of the November elections. Either way it's going to be a long, hot summer if you work for Uncle Sam.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

A group of students from Bishop, Calif. launched a rubber chicken more than 20 miles into space using a helium balloon, achieving an altitude of 120,000 feet. Now, lest I get hate mail telling me this is a completely useless factoid (as opposed to nearly — it's a fine line we walk), there was a point to this faux fowl launch. The students tested levels of radiation the chicken was exposed to during a solar storm, the BBC reports, as a first step in examining whether humans could live at the edge of space.


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