THERE WAS a big sigh of relief in the land when Congress passed its mammoth budget cuts. Americans love budget reductions and thrive on slashing the deficit.
The first week went smoothly, and everyone commented how well a cost-effective government was working.
But during the second week the entire city of Cincinnati was poisoned by a mysterious slug in the drinking water.
"How could this possibly happen?" the newspaper editorials huffed and puffed.
"Where were the Centers for Disease Control?" a congressman from Ohio asked. When informed that he had voted to abolish the Centers he told the press, "I refuse to vote money for the CDC, but I damn well am going to vote money to find out who is to blame for abolishing it."
While Cincinnati was having its trouble, three plane crashes in two days at Chicago's O'Hare airport had the city slightly upset. Congress was told that the layoff of 4,000 air-traffic controllers might have contributed to the accidents.
But the budget hawks in the House subcommittee refused to apologize. "We saved $50 million with the layoffs, and that's worth a lot more than three plane crashes."
As taxpayers tried to comprehend who would lose the most by the financial reductions, federal mental-health funds were reduced to a point where 1,000 hospitals shut down. It might have gone unnoticed except for the fact that the released patients set up squatter camps on the finest golf courses in the country. Players started screaming, "Where are the block grants to keep the mentally ill off the fairways?"
Americans were discovering that it wasn't easy to cut back on spending. One man's pork was another man's poison. Things became more difficult when there was no money to contain the flood waters along the banks of the Mississippi, or to repair the damage done by hailstorms in New Mexico or the hurricane that washed Long Island out to sea. These acts of God could have been predicted, said scientists, had the federal weather department still existed.
When Congress pulled the plug on the nuclear energy plants in the United States, there was no place to dispose of the waste. Environmentalists were attacked by powerful lobbyists who said that the cost of cleaning up the waste wasn't worth one pound of plutonium filings.
Four train crashes later somebody suggested that taking away the government safety inspectors from the railroads might not be the savings everyone had thought, because the cost of rebuilding the damaged track was more than the salaries of the inspectors.
But the deficit kept going down, and the trillion-dollar reductions might have succeeded if it hadn't been for the potato riots when welfare recipients were told that they would not get any more potatoes unless they found jobs designing high-tech computers.
When the welfare people dumped truckloads of Idaho potatoes on the floor of the Capitol building, all the senators rose to cry, "Where is the federal government?"
The doorkeeper of the House yelled, "Thanks to Congress, they're all out to lunch."
Art Buchwald is a syndicated columnist.