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View from the Hill Blog: Can slaying the fed. dragon earn Obama a 2nd term?

By Nicole Palya Wood, View from the Hill National Grange Legislative Blog (1/15/12)

  JANUARY 17, 2012 --

Like most of you, I have wondered over the last few months just what Congress has actually achieved. I am usually the last to jump on the congress-bashing wagon due to the numerous exceptional statesmen and their staff that I know, but recently my little island is getting quite lonely. 

During December and January the legislative activity in Washington is normally quite slow, as in tumbleweeds blowing across Pennsylvania Avenue. Then add the 7lbs of average holiday season weight gain to the turkey tryptophan and the whole federal and Congressional atmosphere seems a bit lethargic.  But at the end of January every year those of us legislative junkies wait with baited breath to see what the President will say in his State of the Union Address. The weight of this address during the year proceeding a Presidential election cannot be underestimated, nor some underlying strategy ignored. 

I have been wondering what President Obama was going to tee-up in the months preceding his address to the Joint Session, and now they have been revealed. With Congress offering the President little to wear on a victorious legislative breastplate, the President has turned to the cabinet; one thing he does still have administrative control over. This week in particular, he has told Congress he will be seeking even greater powers to consolidate cabinets and streamline those that survive.

Early this week, before a crowd of over a 1000 at the National Farm Bureau Federation Convention in Honolulu, Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced that his cabinet department, which employs over 100,000 workers, will close 249 offices.  In the last 15 months, 7000 USDA workers have accepted buyouts or early retirement offers. They are just one of 14 to do so since 2010 when the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) gave this permission. In 2011, a dozen departments got the same nod to offer buyouts. 

I must admit, I did not see this move coming from the White House but I welcome its arrival. In recent blogs, I have vented about my frustration with continuing to feed the mouth of the federal payroll monster with my tax dollars, while our small businesses use monies to pay for regulatory compliance rather than add workers of their own, which cost us nothing. I applaud the President for looking in his own backyard for cost savings rather than continually pointing the finger at private enterprise and millionaires as the culprits. Maybe it’s not a breastplate of legislative victories, but I sure like the banner of smaller, streamlined government being waved in our Nation’s capitol. 

Look, I am a capitalist, consumer-drives-the-market type of girl and believe that this is a step in the right direction. When voids of services are exposed, private companies will answer the call and create jobs while doing so. I do, however, have some apprehension of what happens to all these federal workers once their buyout runs out or the pension doesn’t cover enough of the lifestyle they currently enjoy. Do they get added then to our overburdened unemployment ranks? Are we hedging current cost-savings on the 2012 budget for astronomical future unemployment insurance and rises in SNAP (food stamp) enrollees? 

What is clear, is that we have an administration which has changed tactics, and I like it. The real question, as far as the election goes, is will this move provide enough momentum to carry this President across the threshold of another term in office?  Can the White House be won without legislative victories, and by slaying the federal Goliath alone? Or will Rip Van Congress wake up and agree on something enough to mount a response?  

The President is scheduled to give his 2012 State of the Union Address on January 24th at 9pm EST. Let’s watch and see.

-- Nicole Palya Wood
Legislative Director 

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