Anatomy of a Shell Game

In light of the new American tradition of passing legislation so we can find out what is actually in it, perhaps it’s a bit early to make definitive statements about the “Jobs” bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday (August 10).

Although there are certain to be many fascinating surprises revealed about this bill, I’ll go ahead and take a crack at it anyway.

It’s a series of shell games within shell games within a larger shell game. I think of it as a series of shells within shells, like those Russian stacking dolls.

The first set of shells in this game:

Speaker Pelosi’s “jobs” bill is a teacher and government workers’ unions and over-spending Democratic voting states pay-off measure coupled with the ongoing maneuvering to leverage control inside all state budgets. (See this Wall Street Journal piece.)

Encroachment, the looming nightmares caused by ballooning government employee ranks and the attendant wages and benefits bubbles that are guaranteed to burst, are subjects which will be covered in future articles here. For the moment, I’ll examine the shell games at work, and the stupid whining it has provoked.

On Wednesday, Fox News Channel had a story on their site about a brewing controversy over the construction of the “jobs” bill in one respect; to abide by the supposedly fiscally responsible “pay-go” (pay as you go) system under which Speaker Pelosi’s “most ethical Congress in history” is supposed to be operating , the Food Stamp program was “raided” to “pay” for the “jobs” bill. (Is it just me or is there something unnerving about the number of quotation marks necessary to convey the level of dishonesty inherent in government language these days?)

Advocacy groups and a number of Democratic Congressman are apparently now in a full blown freak out over what they are calling a Food Stamp program raid.

One the one hand, this is the conflict created by trying to permanently hook as many Americans as possible to the government trough. It becomes particularly dicey when you are attempting to win over as many special interest groups as possible. At some point, when you’re trying to appear “fiscally responsible” with a “pay-as-you-go” system, you are going to rob Peter to pay Paul. If Peter is one of your own, he and his friends get real upset when it looks like their end of the trough isn’t going to be overflowing with the amount of slop to which they believe they are entitled.

But it is neither a pay-as-you-go system nor is Peter or even Paul in any danger whatsoever. Of course, the whole “controversy” is absurd.

Another set of shells:

As the Fox News story reveals, the “raid” on the Food Stamp program is set to occur in 2014. When one is only trying to appear fiscally responsible, it’s easy to play shell games.

Of course all the “raiders” are going to do is shift other money around from some other program to restore the Food Stamp funding. One set of the shells in the series will be shifted and moved around again.

So…calm down Food Stamp advocates – it’s impossible to imagine you won’t ultimately be granted exactly what you are certain you are entitled to! There’ll be plenty of slop in the trough for everyone!

A shell game within a shell game:

A further absurdity in this whole faux controversy is that the amount being “raided” from the Food Stamp program is simply a subtraction of the amount the program was increased by the Stimulus bill passed in February 2009. In other words, it’s the same thing as saying that a program is being cut when, in fact, it’s not being increased. And that’s probably also not true in this case. The program, like all other government run charity programs, was likely increased by the CPI figures or, all things staying as they are, is certain to be every year.

The biggest shells in the set:

It’s easy to shuffle various sets of shells around a table when it’s other people’s shells, other people’s nuts. In other words, when it’s other people’s money, borrowed money, money akin to monopoly money as it’s churning off the presses, or even just blips in a computer to which zeros can be conveniently added. (See the US Debt clock.)

Let’s summarize…

To pay-off teachers unions, government employee unions, Democrat-voting states with failing budgets, and further entrenching Federal tentacles into all states…

Looming off in the distance by four years is a theoretical cut to a theoretical increase to a program, paid for by theoretical money that theoretically has value because it is backed “by the full faith and credit of the United States”.

Whew! No wonder only intellectuals can understand this stuff!

I’m not an intellectual, so perhaps these problems should be sorted out by “my betters”. I’m just wondering as a taxpayer what happens when the shells get shuffled too many times? How long can the shell shifters keep moving them fast enough for everyone not to see what is really going on here?

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