My View From The Country

Meat Inspector Furlough Is Just A D.C. Game

Food inspection is a miniscule part of USDA’s budget, but it greatly impacts industry and consumers. Thus, it’s the perfect issue to use as a chip in Washington game-playing.

Even though the deadline for sequestration has come and passed, its impacts still haven’t really gone into effect, and the negotiation is just beginning. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the political maneuvering that’s occurring, as it offers more twists than a good spy novel.

The first interesting fact is that when the Obama administration hatched the idea of sequestration, it was convinced Republicans would never allow it happen because of the risks to the defense budget. Under sequestration, defense was slated to suffer a hugely disproportionate share of the cuts – well over 200% more than any other area.

And, while the Obama administration hates the idea of spending cuts, it’s long desired to cut the defense budget – it just wasn’t politically feasible. Thus, in some respects, sequestration doesn’t sound like a bad idea to Democrats, as entitlements are untouched and defense gets hammered.

Meanwhile, Republicans loathe the cuts in defense but don’t mind the forced overall cuts. After all, it fits their desire to quell the federal government’s spending binge, which they haven’t been able to accomplish politically. Thus, the irony of the sequester deal is that both camps are getting what they wanted, at the same time that they aren’t.

The next interesting point is that both sides have much to lose in this debate. Of course, spending cuts is a misrepresentation, as there are no real spending cuts (except to defense); it’s just a reduction in spending increases. But if slowing the growth in spending is perceived as being too painful, the Republicans have little to no chance of actually getting the government back to a balanced-budget scenario. Thus, the great irony is that Republicans are trying to make the cuts as painless as possible, while Democrats want the cuts to be as painful as possible. Still, Democrats would rather not have the cuts at all. Are you thoroughly confused now? 

The whole episode regarding a furlough of USDA meat inspectors is a prime example of how this game is being played out. This week, USDA announced it planned to furlough thousands of inspectors for 11 days, but the furloughs would be spread out over time to minimize the effect, and wouldn’t start until July.

The administration’s game plan seems to want to make the cuts seem as dire and painful as possible, in order to force Republicans to blink and accept revenue increases. At the same time, the administration wants to build the perception that it seeks to minimize the furloughs’ impacts. The reality, however, is that food inspection is a miniscule part of USDA’s budget, but it greatly impacts the industry and consumers; thus, it’s the perfect area to use as a chip in this Washington game.

 

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I’ve always felt that a third-party movement was idealism running wild over pragmatism – the classic example of cutting off your nose to spite your face. The Tea Party, the Green Party and even the Libertarian party may all closely represent the ideals of their members, but the net effect of these groups from an electoral standpoint has been that their efforts have ended up electing candidates more opposed to their views than aligned with them.

I understand we’re stuck with a two-party system, and thus it makes sense to work within that system. But with the latest approval ratings of the House and Senate at 19% and 12%, respectively, the sentiment for a third party is very understandable. Perhaps we’re going to have to throw them all out in order to send the message to Washington that the people’s desires are more important than election outcomes. Sadly, the current system’s focus seems to simply be the inverse of that.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 6

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 15, 2013

Do you want to cut spending or not? You can't have it both ways. If you really want government out of your business, then you have to start somewhere, and this is as good a place as any. If inspections are that important, let growers pay for it.

on Mar 15, 2013

The only people that are going to pay for the USDA furlough is the consumers. This is affecting an industry that EVERYONE relies on. From a processing standpoint, each of these "non working" days not only shut down the entire processing facility but force processors to work their employees and inspectors on regular shutdown days (like Saturday) to meet the demands of their orders. At this point processors will be required to pay the overtime of these employees and inspectors out of pocket which will intern shift that cost to the consumers.

Dr. Sean (not verified)
on Mar 15, 2013

I work for FSIS as a veterinarian. You are wrong in the assumption that the plant's will work other day's of the week to make it up. FSIS inspectors have to work 40 hours of PAID "regular" time in a week, before they are allowed to work an overtime shift. U.S. law does not allow industry to pay inspection "regular" time as that pay is appropriated from taxpayer funds. Thus, on the weeks where FSIS is furloughed one full day, the plants will only be able to work 4 days that week. No Saturday or Sunday to make it up!

on Mar 15, 2013

Hey Troy,

Here is the fundamental problem with our political system. Too many people share the "I understand we’re stuck with a two-party system, and thus it makes sense to work within that system." statement you just made.

Nothing will ever get fixed under the current system because they are pretty much the same party. The only votes that were 'thrown away' in the last election were those for either of the two main parties.

A totally new approach is the only way anything is going to get fixed. We begin that by refusing to vote for any main party candidate. If 60% of the population realized voting can actually make a difference maybe they would vote differently and the whole cycle changes in a single election.

Elizabeth J. Dana (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2013

This is a crisis brewing. Consumers are outraged that horse meat may be in our own American Beef and with new setic outbreaks of deadly e.coli, this is exactly brewing a Perfect Storm. Add to this Oklahoma Skye McNeil and Mark Allen ramming horse slaughter legalization bills through and now you have a furious consumer base that will begin boycotts! First Ban Horse Slaughter to protect the public trust then fund inspections for health and safety reasons and then help the drought striken ranchers. Don't let them spend money on HORSE SLAUGHTER USDA inspections when we can't even protect our beef!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2013

As I recall, meat inspectors are paid by the companies to do the work. It's a fee-for-service situation.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contribur Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.

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Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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