By SUZANNE DOWNING
An unlikely symbol of bloated federal excess has emerged from the Alaska wilderness: Fat Bear Week.
The annual weight-guessing contest organized by the National Park Service, Fat Bear Week has gained international notoriety for its playful voting to decide the Alaska grizzly bear that has packed on the most pounds during a summer of feasting on wild Alaska salmon at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park.
Viewers take part in an online tournament-style elimination-bracket game, advancing to the next round of voting until a bear is crowned the fattest of them all. Last year, more than a million votes were cast and there was even a scandal around the ballot box having been stuffed.
The celebration of fantastically obese bruins begins Oct. 4 and runs through Oct. 10. Park Service employees count the votes and post them on social media platforms like X and Facebook.
Only this year, it won’t happen. Word comes to us from none other than Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola that – gasp! — Fat Bear Week will be canceled due to the government shutdown.
“The bears will continue to get fat,” Peltola sighed on X. “Losing Fat Bear Week is far from the most severe consequence of a shutdown, but it is disappointing for Alaskans and many worldwide who enjoy following the bears of Katmai. If the bears can keep doing their job, why can’t Congress?”
First of all, her lecturing the United States Congress is rich. She is Congress, yet Peltola has the worst attendance in the House of Representatives, and not just because of the tragic death of her husband earlier this month. She was 12th from the bottom in recorded votes before that awful day.
But to my main point, this is how we know government in America is too big – agencies have so much fat on them that they now are entertainment venues devoted to bears porking up for hibernation. The game has become a sacred cow to Alaska’s representative, who in the most cringeworthy way possible compares the fattening bears to Congress.
We get it, Rep. Peltola. Taxpayers do indeed feel like we’re the fish jumping into the hungry mouths of the tax collectors.
It was just four months ago that the U.S. came close to defaulting on its obligations when it hit the debt ceiling of $31.4 trillion. That crisis was averted when the debt ceiling was magically lifted until Jan. 1, 2025.
In the four months since the debt ceiling was suspended, the country has added $3 trillion in debt, and is now shutting down some of its operations.
Who owns that U.S. debt? Thirty percent is owned by foreign nations, with Japan and China in the lead. Every dollar that Congress is voting on right now is borrowed money.
For this fiscal year, the United States will borrow 9% of gross domestic product, which means 9% of the entire economy is simply Congress taking out a loan.
The looming Social Security trust fund crisis is next, estimated to run dry in 2034, one year sooner than last year’s projection from the Social Security Administration.
The party is over. It’s been great and it’s been fun, but everyone knows it’s over, even while the drunken spenders in Congress party on, with each member like Rep. Peltola beer-ponging this budget to the bitter end.
But now the bottles are empty, the lights are going to be shut off, and the cops are on their way, so our spenders are grabbing the silverware and with one last drink in hand, will swing from the chandeliers until they come crashing down.
This was a great exercise in self-governance by the people, but it’s not what our Founders had in mind. It’s what they fought against.
We have some in Congress who get the gravity of the situation and the depravity of what has happened over the past 20 years.
Instead of calling them “ultra-Maga radical extremists,” we should consider what these fiscal hawks are saying: We have an opportunity to staunch the bleeding now. We won’t have that opportunity in the future. We’re at a now-or-never moment for America with fiscal conditions and economic indicators colliding like we’ve never seen before.
Fat Bear Week is no sacred cow. If our members of Congress — the ones who show up to work — aren’t willing to challenge the status quo and drastically reduce spending now, then we are all just prey leaping into the mouth of the apex predator.
Suzanne Downing is publisher of Must Read Alaska.