TOO CLEVER BY HALF….Guess what? The end of the federal government’s fiscal year ? September 30 ? is rapidly approaching, and George Bush’s minions have had a brainstorm: federal bureaucrats should put off as many purchases as possible until October so that this year’s spending looks nice and frugal. After all, we don’t want any headlines about skyrocketing government spending just before the midterm elections!

Alternatively, if no actual purchases can be delayed, just delay payment for services already rendered. Like, say, for Medicare services:

The bureaucratic brainstorm was straightforward ? simple-minded is, perhaps, a more appropriate description ? don’t pay doctors, hospitals and their army of auxiliaries tending to indisposed old folks and the afflicted disabled for their labors in the last nine days of the current fiscal year. Instead, send them a check for what you owe them, sometime after the first of October, the start of the government’s fiscal ’07. In essence, those doctors, hospitals et al. are making an involuntary loan of nine days’ pay without interest.

That way, point out the gleeful budgeteers and Medicare pooh-bahs, all of whom presumably are glowing with health, Uncle Sam’s Medicare tab this fading fiscal year will be $5.2 billion less than it otherwise would have been. Or at least would seem to be $5.2 billion less ? in Washington, as we all know, appearance and reality are not invariably the same phenomena.

Apparently, these people genuinely think that no one has ever thought of this trick before. And they’re right, as long you don’t include every sales manager and CFO who’s ever lived. Needless to say, that $5.2 billion will get tacked right onto next year’s budget, so it’s not like we’re saving anything. It’s just that we don’t have any elections next year.

Honest to God, every time you think these guys can’t get any more puerile, they do. It’s like having a bunch of scheming high school freshmen running the country.

Via Barry Ritholtz.

UPDATE: It looks like my outrage may have been misplaced. See here for a more mundane explanation for the shutdown.

UPDATE 2: My outrage turns out to be well deserved after all. The payment delay is indeed mandated by law, not by a squirrely computer system.