Essayist Peter Smith conducts his own budget talks around the kitchen table

Commentator Peter Smith
Commentator Peter Smith.
MPR Photo/Sarah Fleener

In honor of the looming shutdown and in the spirit of the times, I'm going to call the family together tonight. We'll sit around the kitchen table — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — all of us. And we'll try to make a few cuts and look for ways to increase revenue too.

My wife and I will propose we stock fewer popsicles and ice cream bars in the freezer. We'll float the idea of a gasoline conservation program too. You know, fewer rides to the mall and to friends' homes. And we'll encourage alternate forms of transportation, including walking and biking.

The fourteen-year-old wants to be a lawyer when he grows up. He'll oppose the reduction in treats, and suggest we conserve gasoline by having him mow the yard less often — without a correlating reduction in allowance, of course. He may even introduce an expert witness — his buddy from down the block. The buddy, we should note, is in no small part responsible for our excessive spending on popsicles and ice cream bars in the first place.

He'll testify that activities like mowing, and walking or biking to the mall are both unsafe and nerdy.

Our son will then close by pointing out that mowing, walking and biking burn calories, leading to even higher rates of popsicle and ice cream bar consumption.

We'll roll our eyes, sigh, and turn to the older kids — the ones who drive already — and suggest they pay for their own gasoline. They will whine and cry as if we were suggesting they pay 90 percent capital gains tax. Especially our son the Ron Paul libertarian.

And so it will go, back and forth, cut spending, raise revenues. Right there at the kitchen table. At some point, someone — my guess is the fourteen-year-old's buddy — will get up, go to the freezer. He'll return with popsicles and ice cream bars for everyone. Popsicles and ice cream bars he didn't pay for.

Talks will break off around 10 o'clock. No deal will be struck and we'll all go to bed to sleep secure in the knowledge that unlike Minnesota, the family can not and will not simply shut down.