Government by mad hatter

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted November 15, 1999

A reliable theme of science fiction is that some of our dreams -- should they come true -- might actually be horrors.

Imagine for a moment that Santa Claus were real -- with the frightening power to promise children anything they wanted, coupled with the political might to compel their horrified parents to make good all his glib promises.

Little Suzie didn't consider stable and feed costs when she asked for that pony, of course. But what does Santa care, as long as mom and dad are on the hook to work second shifts and keep him the most popular guy in town?

This is what strict constructionists mean when they refer to the tendency of modern-day politicians to "play Santa Claus." Those who preach fiscal restraint, limiting Washington to "those powers specifically delegated," are often sandbagged as hard-hearted and selfish: If the toys are in the sack anyway, why object to distributing them to the shivering, moon-faced children?

The problem arises when it turns out the sack is really empty, and all that's been handed out are blank checks ... guaranteeing later payment by John Q. Taxpayer.

One of the first proud "achievements" of the Clinton administration, for instance, was the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which currently allows an estimated 650,000 Americans per year to take unpaid time off to deal with childbirth, illness, or sick relatives.

Critics warned this could impose an unfunded hardship on small businesses. They also warned -- in the face of vociferous assurances to the contrary -- that it wouldn't be long before Santa came up with some scheme to pay folks while on "unpaid" leave, defining the very condition he himself created as a new "hardship."

Guess what? The New York Times now reports "The administration is preparing to announce details" of a plan under which those on "unpaid leave" would be ruled eligible to collect ... unemployment insurance benefits.

"In announcing the rules, White House officials said, (President) Clinton will present himself as the champion of a popular political cause, helping hard-pressed families while Congress sits on the sidelines."

Only problem is, under the 1935 federal legislation which created the states' unemployment insurance programs in the first place, the funds extracted from employers are considered to be just that -- premiums toward an insurance policy, set by actuaries based on the measured risk that the insured will encounter the covered hazard -- involuntary unemployment.

State officials tell the Times the new proposal could boost unemployment insurance costs by 15 to 20 percent -- costs which will be piled directly on the backs of small employers, leading to (guess what?) more unemployment!

Mr. Clinton thus proposes to overrule six decades of established law and practice -- eventually rendering the unemployment trust funds as actuarially insolvent as Social Security. And why? Just to win Al Gore the votes of the soccer moms.

Heck, why not allow anyone who's having trouble paying the bills to loot the trust funds of the big life insurance companies in Boston and Hartford? Sure, those greedy old stuffed shirts will whine and complain, and eventually come up short when it's time for our survivors to try and collect on our policies. But that'll be sometime in the next century. In the meantime, wouldn't all that free money make everybody happy, and the president pretty darned popular?

"This is the nuttiest idea we've seen in a long time," Patrick J. Cleary, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, told the Times.

"The unemployment trust fund ... is an insurance fund, not a slush fund. It's for unemployed people. Workers on family leave are employed, not unemployed. We'll see bad times again some day, and when we go back to the trust fund, it'll be bust."

And the president isn't even throwing this out as a matter to be debated and analyzed by the Congress, which in the dim twilight of the Clinton era is starting to look about as necessary to the goings-on as Britain's ceremonial House of Lords.

No, "Clinton is relying on an expansive view of executive authority," the Times reported last week, in a droll understatement.

So the boy president will merely wave his royal scepter, announcing the several states are now allowed to use unemployment funds to pay those on "unpaid" family leave if they so choose, and It Shall Be So.

Thus, in the pathetic Gotterdammerung of the American Republic (you remember -- government in three equal branches?) do we now witness the absurd spectacle of an impeached president proposing to toss out stolen funds like candy at Mardi Gras, in a manner massively irresponsible as well as illegal, and no one dares (or cares) to do a thing about it.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His new book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at $24.95 postpaid from Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127; by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site

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