Sequestration: World's dullest soap opera?

Tuesday - 6/4/2013, 2:00am EDT

Is the ongoing sequestration drive a for-real, goal-driven program or it is simply the world's largest interactive government game show (including service cuts, ranging from the irritating to the downright dangerous and, of course, furloughs for tens of thousands of civil servants?)

Thanks for playing — now does anybody know where the remote is?

So is the government really saving money or does it "lose" when outfits like the IRS — which collects most of the nonborrowed funds used to operate the government — shuts down for a number of days?

Or, as a number of readers have put it, is sequestration simply "political theater" designed to make opposing players look bad? Is it a bad play put on by politicians who are mostly both fire-proof and furlough proof? Here's how one fed put it:

"...Sequestration isn't about saving money. It's not about controlling the debt and the deficit. It's about bad political theater. For the left, it's about showing the public how radical and dysfunctional the right has become, in matters of governance. For the right, it's about demonstrating that they still matter (after losing two Presidential elections), and punishing feds for being feds (something that always seems to be on the agenda for the right). It doesn't really matter, to either side, what harm the sequester causes because they are (substantially) untouched by it. Further, as we have all seen, when the sequester inconveniences them, in the slightest degree, they act swiftly to remedy that part of the problem. And so the show never ends."
Another disagrees with the recent column that said the IRS furloughs are costing a bundle
"I don't think you can make the case that furloughs are costing the government money, at least not at the IRS. To say, as in a previous column, that an IRS employee brings in an average of $XX per day tells us nothing about any particular employee or any particular day. The IRS is not a manufacturing entity, such that if an employee is not on the job on a given day, a certain amount of widgets do not get made, which means those unmade widgets do not get sold, which means those unmade and unsold widgets do not generate income and that 'lost' income times the number of employees furloughed equals a huge amount of lost revenue.

"The reality is that most income-generating activities in the IRS are carried out over a long period of time (think of audits and collection activities) and a very large portion of the revenues passing through the IRS to the Treasury are the result of our 'voluntary' tax system, i.e people send in money (with or without direct IRS personnel contact) on their own. Tax obligations, in general, get paid (i.e. the money comes in) whether or not a particular employee or all employees are on the job on any given day. Case in point: What happens if an employee takes a sick day or an annual leave day? If he/she has unused sick leave or annual leave, the employee loses no pay. Does the IRS (and hence, the government) 'lose' revenue that day? Of course not. If a taxpayer was intending to send in a payment (income tax, excise tax, estimated tax, etc.) those payments still get sent in.

"To be sure, the revenue collection process of the IRS requires employees to make it work. But if one, some or all of its employees are not there on a given day or even several days, the IRS does not 'lose' money. Those audits and collection activities and voluntary payments in the mail keep on happening. To be sure, a particular audit or collection activity may go on a bit longer because of the furlough days. But, eventually, the audit or collection activity closes, the additional tax due is received and the government goes on. In other words, we are not a retail store (in that if we're closed on a particular day we lose sales). After all, most federal employees do not work weekends and no one talks about 'lost' revenue then.

"Furloughs do affect productivity somewhat. But, in general, the money keeps rolling in. It's the nature of the system. Most taxpayers pay their taxes, not because the IRS offices are open on a particular day. They do so because the force of law compels them to. And most taxpayers are law-abiding (thankfully!). What affects the government's income stream the most is the health of the economy and tax rates. Furlough days — uh, not really.

"So, what difference do furlough days make? One, they save the government money by decreasing wage and benefit expenses (granted, the government does lose payroll taxes from the furloughed employees — in one pocket, out the other). And, two, because federal employees have lost income (after all, in the world of double-entry bookkeeping, every debit has to have a corresponding credit) they are spending less (I know I am) which has a ripple effect on the local economy (more or less, depending upon how many "feds" are in a particular locale). And particularly for feds on the lower end of the GS pay scale, furloughs are brutal. As I see it furloughs, at least in the IRS, do not affect Government income; they do reduce government spending; they do negatively impact feds and the larger economy because many fed employees reduce their spending. What would affect the government revenue stream would be a tax furlough. Regarding that happening, my money's on the proverbial snowball in .... — Anon, at the IRS


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

The culprits behind the repeated ringing of an elderly woman's doorbell in Offenburg, Germany turned out to be ants. Responding to a frantic 3 a.m. call, police arrived expecting to uncover the work of pranksters. Instead, they found an ant nest that had grown large enough to trigger the doorbell's ringing mechanism.

(Source: Live Science)


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