A true sequestration nightmare

Opinion
Mar 1, 2013
by DTN
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Wearing undersized white coats and over-sized hard hats, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell indignantly march into the makeshift Oval Office. Still negotiating an acceptable pecking order, the two shift foremen momentarily get stuck in the doorway before blurting out the latest plant crisis.

“Mr. President . . . er, Chief Inspector Obama, you’re needed again on the kill floor, sir.”

“For the love of federal inspection,” the Commander-in-Chain-Speed fumes.

“What’s wrong now? How do you expect me to run the country and defend the free world when these elected idiots can’t even tell the difference between E.coli and eBay?” “That’s not a very respectful way to refer to the United States Congress,” Meat Inspector McConnell scolds. “Every man, woman, and page is doing their patriotic best under very trying and unfamiliar circumstances.”

“I’m sorry,” Obama sighs, reaching for his safety goggles. “But if you guys had just avoided this sequestration mess, we wouldn’t have to man essential services like meat inspection with professional office holders and political hacks.”

“It was a casebook study in conflicts of law, Chief,” Inspector Reid shrugs. “When legislation required that we simultaneously slash $85 billion across the board and maintain high standards of food safety, the only thing a committed and uncompromising diner at the public trough could do was grab the nearest poleax and fill the breach.”

“Here’s a brainstorm,” mutters Secret Service Agent Johnson. “Let’s pay the meat inspectors and furlough these bozos.”

“What’s that, Johnson?” Obama asks, cupping an ear.

“Nothing sir, it’s just that plant security is now reporting a great deal of yelling and knife-throwing.”

“I’d better get down there before Pelosi shackles Boehner to a rail,” the president cautions. “Were they still fighting over who gets stuck at the viscera table?” “They had been temporarily distracted by a hamburg er

fight between Michele Bachmann and Joe Biden,” McConnell informs. “We were more alarmed when Rand Paul began screaming at Elizabeth Warren for tanking something that looked like a Clydesdale.”

“Have the Marine Band play ‘Hail to the Chief’ over the intercom,” Obama desperately suggests. “Maybe it will even slow the line long enough to take a new vote on the budget.”

I know. The pending threat of sequestration is no laughing matter. But you can blame the silly speculation above on the fact that I’ve heard at least one too many nightmare scenarios tied to the March 1 deadline.

When U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack started to rattle his saber over meat inspectors in January, I thought the threat of sending these critical monitors of food safety was both incredible and empty. Though the ticking clock sounds louder and my palms feel wetter, I guess I still do.

Besides the basic legal straitjacket that mandates meat inspection at all large packing plants, the economic fall-out of a significant, state-sponsored disruption in meat production would be absolutely crippling.

Surely even the dullest pencil pushers in the Beltway can calculate what an extreme disaster this would be. Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time a bet on Washington smarts was as ill-advised as banking that the new Pope will hail from Vegas.

At this point, we really only know two things: 1) The USDA is contractually obliged to give meat inspectors a 30-day notice of any furloughs; and 2) The department, if forced, would probably implement a system of “rolling furloughs,” staggering layoffs in a way that would periodically limit production rather than completely stop it.

While it may deserve to be buried deep in the file of “Plan B’s,” my fall-back scheme to use members of Congress as substitute meat inspectors may not be altogether unworkable.

As far as I can tell, they’re not that busy. — John Harrington, DTN

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