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By Ric Llewellyn
I read a letter from Barack Obama the other day. No, it wasn't to me. It was addressed to federal workers who are facing furloughs due to "the lapse in appropriated funds."
You've heard about the "government shutdown," haven't you?
I learned a few things from the letter. First, the federal government is the largest single employer in the United States. Second, politicians will never miss an opportunity to make political points for themselves from the misery of the people. And third, we probably can do without a lot of the federal government.
The fact that the U.S. government is the largest single employer in the country makes me wince. Yet federal government employees and contractors make up less than 3 percent of total American employment.
In Kern County federal workers make up just over 3 percent of total employment. I don't want to diminish the impact furloughs will have on those individuals and their families. Without new appropriations legislation it will get hard for them.
But more than triple that number of individuals and their families continue to languish in unemployment here in Kern County. We seem to have forgotten about them. They won't have their incomes return with the stroke of a pen like federal workers will. They need real leadership on economic policy from Washington D.C. Something that is sorely lacking.
The president also had an opportunity to lead on this appropriations issue. After effusively celebrating the nobility of working for the government, President Obama condemned the partisanship that unfairly impacts public service.
Of course the next words from his pen were patently partisan. The House of Representatives did this, the president declares. And for you who work at or for Edwards or China Lake he meant, "Kevin McCarthy did this to you!"
As the chief executive this is an opportunity for the president to rise above the rancor. He ought to promote confidence in the future and allay the present fears of federal workers in Kern County and across the country.
Instead he turned this situation for his peevish political purposes. Regardless of the acrimony, furloughed government employees don't deserve to be made political fodder for the benefit of their boss.
Now, it has only been a few days, but the sky has not fallen and I don't expect it will. Which leads me to suggest we do not need so much government so far away from the people. Especially for California.
We lead the way (if you want to call it that) in responding to all the social and environmental hot-button issues. California's statutes and regulations are every bit as burdensome and intrusive as the federal government's. A lot of it is a big wasteful duplication of annoyance.
Although we need to address the bloated and gluttonous federal government with compassion for the people who serve in it, this "shutdown" should initiate a frank and focused dialogue about what the federal government ought to be.
The states, after all, are sovereign states empowered to govern in all things "not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States."
We need to embrace that authority to manage our own affairs. It seems that everything we yield is encumbered with more bureaucracy. Less gets done with a longer wait. And of course, it always costs more.
It's nothing that will happen overnight, but the conversation should begin now.
So thank you Mr. President for addressing your millions of employees. I understand a little better how government employment integrates with overall employment here in Kern County. And I'm reminded of the failure of our national economic policy to help Kern County's poor and unemployed.
My cynical opinion of politicians has been reinforced. Again. You made sure to blame your political opponents for a development that is clearly shared by all.
And while I lament the personal impacts "the lapse in appropriated funds" will have, it certainly drives me to question what really is essential and constitutionally authorized. It will all be funded again with the stroke of a pen. But should it be?
-- Ric Llewellyn is a community columnist whose work appears in The Californian's Local section every third Saturday. Email him at llewellyn.californian@ gmail.com. These are Llewellyn's opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.