Who would have thought that the extreme right wing Tea Party-led US Congress would a pull a "Bob Rae", and in effect impose "Rae Days" on 800,00 federal employees in Washington?
Before my good friend Bob Rae re-invented himself as the white-haired elder statesman of the Federal Liberal Party -- about 23 years ago -- he was a dark-haired, wild-eyed, idealistic socialist and the surprise Premier of Ontario as leader of the social democratic, New Democratic Party.
Back in those days, about 1993, not unlike modern day Washington, Ontario was drowning in red ink. Ontario was suffering from huge deficits. High unemployment. And Ontario was about to hit a debt wall.
When Rae was first elected Premier, the Ontario economy was already in the toilet, thanks to the spendthrift reign of the former Liberal Premier David Peterson.
Unfortunately, Rae, reading from the socialist handbook, thought more government was the answer. So he took a bad situation and made it worse, by imposing more taxes, and by having the Ontario government try to spend its way out of the recession.
That is, until the international bankers and institutional creditors holding Ontario's debt came a calling. And told Rae that Ontario was heading down the tubes, unless he quickly implemented some drastic measures.
Hence, the birth of the infamous but very necessary, "Rae Days." The involuntary imposition of unpaid holidays on Ontario government workers.
Washington, in 2013, is not much different than Ontario in the early 1990s.
The American government is drowning in red ink, red tape and is hemmorhaging annual deficits and a massive federal debt. Government spending is out of control. Obama, like Rae, wants to tax and spend his way out this mess. But the economic mess is only getting worse.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office ("CBO") claims that the U.S. national debt is now 73 per cent of gross domestic product, the highest in history except for a period around World War II. The figure is twice the percentage it was at the end of 2007.
The CBO has warned that under current law, growing future deficits will push the debt to 100 per cent of GDP 25 years from now. And under another scenario that envisions changes being made to some laws -- including removing the so-called automatic budget cuts known as the sequester -- the debt would be even higher, at nearly 190 per cent by 2038.
"The federal budget is on a course that cannot be sustained indefinitely,"
CBO director Douglas Elmendorf told reporters.
"Because federal debt is already unusually high relative to GDP, further increases in debt could be especially harmful," the CBO report said. It said lawmakers would have to make "significant changes" to tax and spending policies to put the U.S. budget on a sustainable path for the long term. "
The hard right Tea Party wing of Congress is sick and tired of America living beyond its means.
And these Congressmen are sick and tired of the huge deficits incurred by President Bush and now President Obama.
But the latter, Obama, refuses to do anything about it. He refuses to contemplate any serious reductions in annual government expenditures. Obama is hoping for a miracle economic recovery, that will shoot up employment, bring in tons of tax revenue and balance the budget.
I dream of a Maple Leafs Stanley Cup victory too. But that won't happen either in my lifetime.
Frustrated by Obama's failure to address America's massive deficit and debt problems, the right-wing Congress, with the constitutional power of the nation's purse strings, brought about a federal government shutdown.
"Rae Days", American-style.
The right-wing GOP is being pilloried from the left. And mocked from the right.
But the Union still stands. City and state governments are still functioning.
Essential federal government services are still being maintained.
Members of the American military are still being paid under a separate law.
Air traffic controllers and border patrol agents are still working. The American embassies and consulates are still processing passports and visas. Even the self-funded Postal Service is still delivering the mail, through rain or shine or government shut down. And the federal government will continue to pay Social Security benefits and Medicare and Medicaid fees to doctors on time.
The sky has not fallen. Frogs and locusts are not dropping from the heavens.
Wow! Perhaps the American people may suddenly realize that they could live with a lot less government.
This situation is very different from December 1995, when GOP Congressional leader Newt Gingrich pulled the plug on the federal government.
Notwithstanding national polls to the contrary, this time around, the GOP Congressmen will survive and prosper quite well, thank you, in their GOP-favoured gerrymandered Congressional districts. Which support these Congressmen whole-heartedly.
And the U.S. may come out of this government shut down a leaner and more productive and efficient government.
Instead of financial armageddon, there may be financial rebirth.
I may be the only writer in America who does not think the Tea Partiers are whack jobs.
I think they are true American patriots.
Because these "crazy" Tea Party types are truly worried about America's soaring public debt and the rising pension and health care costs that are fuelling it.
I predict they will not stop at shutting down the Federal Government to force Obama and the Democrats to deal with this problem.
I predict they will go all the way and force the federal government to go into default unless Obama and the Democrats deal substantially with America's soaring debt.
This very high debt is not only a drag on long term growth, but more importantly, but it may lead ultimately to the irreversible downfall of the United States. Much like the eclipse of the British Empire in the 20th century.
Even staunch and committed Democrats would be opposed to America suffering that ignominious fate.