Less Than Perfect

Near-shutdown experience was no cause for celebration.

In the immediate aftermath of April's extremely near-miss on a shutdown of federal operations, politicians fell all over themselves to congratulate each other for finally coming together on a deal. On the House and Senate floors, leaders gushed about their willingness to hammer out an agreement. President Obama thanked House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "for their leadership and their dedication during this process."

The next day, the president bounded up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to claim credit, on behalf of both the administration and members of Congress, for keeping the landmark from being closed to tourists. "I just wanted to say, real quick, that because Congress was able to settle its differences, that's why this place is open today and everybody's able to enjoy their visit," he said, as if the absence of the closure of a facility that the tourists had paid to keep open with their tax dollars was an accomplishment.

That same day, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer chimed in, writing on the White House blog that "last night was a perfect example of Democrats and Republicans coming together, working tirelessly to hammer out a deal and making the tough choices to live within our means."

A perfect example?

Congress waited until six months of the fiscal year had passed before getting serious about finalizing a budget. Lawmakers had to pass no fewer than seven short-term funding measures to get a spending deal in place, and they celebrated that deal before members even knew exactly what was in it. Legislators bickered endlessly over relatively small amounts of money. They were sidetracked by dozens of nonbudget issues thrown into the last-minute legislation. They actually technically didn't even pass the last stopgap measure until after the deadline had passed.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of federal employees were on edge for a week, wondering whether they were supposed to come to work the following Monday and, if not, whether they would lose pay for whatever length of time the government was closed. Executives, managers and front-line workers had to spend much of the week not doing the work they were supposed to do, but instead putting shutdown plans into action because of the budget brinksmanship.

This whole process wasn't a "perfect example" of anything except how not to run a railroad. And with even more complicated budget battles looming ahead, it was cause for concern about just how difficult it will be to manage federal operations for the rest of the year.

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