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What, no message bill?

Published February 27, 2013 4:04 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah's Legislature loves to send message bills to the feds, and most are thoroughly quixotic. So it's curious that on one issue where a message bill could actually accomplish something worthwhile, the solons are silent.

News item: "I'm for sequestration," declared Sen. Orrin Hatch in a speech to Utah legislators.

News item: "We are a very federally dependent state," said Natalie Gochnour, chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, speaking of the pending hit to Utah's economy if the massive federal spending cuts take automatic effect, "and this time it could stick and it could hurt."

There are more than 30,000 federal employees in Utah, representing 3.2 percent of the workforce and contributing $6.2 billion a year in wages.

The impact of furloughs means a real hit to those families. Pay reductions translate to new cars not bought, consumer purchases postponed, restaurant meals not purchased, and families in financial stress. Add to that more than $6 million taken from public schools, $1.2 million lost for clean air and water programs, and the list goes on.

The biggest loser, and the greater threat to everyone else, will be another (thoroughly deserved) loss of confidence in the ability of Congress to responsibly manage the nation's fiscal affairs.

Another deep recession won't ground Warren Bufffet's private jet. But if your retirement funds are invested in stocks, a long-term 30 percent loss in value ain't beanbag. Congressional pensions are guaranteed a handsome security, no matter what.

None of this is necessary. The sequester isn't like a meteor aimed at the planet. It's a rum-dum creation of a sclerotic Congress, with help from a president who isn't an artful negotiator. It could be gone by Friday if it were voted out of existence.

Of course, that's the rub, because Congress doesn't want to act. It prefers to use people's lives and livelihoods as political pawns in the great game of sticking it to a president Republicans loathe. As Hatch has pledged, he'll be twisting that blade, along with Utah's other Republican members of Congress.

Where, then, are Utah's Capitol Hill message messengers? Why not a joint resolution, forthwith, demanding that Congress — and Utah's delegation — stop playing three-card monte and put an end to this artificial misery? Why not demand some statesmanship by showing some?

The Republican mantra is that this is all due to White House obduracy. That might have more currency if the White House were in charge of federal spending. That's the job of Congress. Presumably, that's what they're paid to do. Adopt budgets. Act responsibly. Govern wisely.

Americans have a grandiose view of our form of government of, by, and for the people. We like to think it has God's own imprimatur and is an example for the world.

Yet, as we travel abroad, have any of us ever been in a conversation with a "furriner," who has said, "Old chap – how truly I do wish we had a senate like yours in our country!"

Not bloody likely.

David R. Irvine is a lawyer in private practice in Salt Lake City. He served four terms as a Republican member of the Utah House of Representatives from Bountiful.