Some time ago, by way of pointing out why things had gone wildly out of control at the federal level, it was pointed out to me that in Washington there are not two political parties, but three. The party in minority control of Congress, the party in majority control of Congress, and the third party, the administration, a.k.a. the White House.

In normal times, members of Congress self-identify with their office first, and with their political party second. And they view the administration, the president, as belonging to a distinctly different clique, no matter what political label it wears.

Republican. Democratic. Administration. Three parties.

This is, of course, by design. It's part of the checks and balances put into our government by our nation's founders. Congress, the nation's fiscal body, looks out for its interests while the president, as head of the nation's spending body, looks out for his.

That system of healthy antagonism broke down during the Bush administration. Republicans, who until recently held control of Congress, saw the White House not as a third party but as just another group of Republicans.Instead of pushing back, instead of acting to keep the administration in check, Congress became its enabler.

A green light for every spending measure, and a staggering deficit. A green light for military expedition, and a quagmire.

States' rights

The states also used a model of limited government and limited power enforced by a division of responsibilities into independent political units.

In Indiana, we have a legislature and a governor. In Bloomington, a City Council and a mayor. In Monroe County, a County Council and a Board of Commissioners.

Those bodies aren't supposed to get along. I don't mean they should be nasty to each other, but a presumption of cooperation between them is a bad, not a good thing. When one doesn't push the other back, democracy breaks down, and something goes out of control.

William Wrigley Jr (of the chewing-gum empire) said, "When two people in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary." When two independent political bodies agree, people get screwed.

I've been hearing a lot about inter-governmental cooperation lately, which is why I thought of this column. And I saw the consequences of that cooperation play out at the local level, which is why I knew I had to write it.

Working towards total control

The phrase I hear most often is "work with." As in, "We're going to work with the council." Or, "I plan to work with the commissioners." Candidates wove it into their platforms, and now it's in their newspaper text-bites.

I didn't care for it in campaign season but now that the same party, that is to say Democratic, is the majority on the County Council and the County Commissioners, I really don't like it.

Because it's breaking down the system of checks and balances. And that's bad.

While it's certainly not on the same level as doubling the national debt or sending our military to invade the wrong country, cooperation between the council and the commissioners has hatched its first boo-boo.

"Working with" the commissioners, the council authorized $44,000 to be spent on a report about county paychecks. Why? Because for a few pay periods in the beginning of the year, the auditor (who is responsible for payroll) screwed payroll up.

But I'm not here to defend the auditor. What I am here to do is criticize a decision by the Democrat-controlled County Commissioners and the Democrat-controlled County Council to authorize the spending of that much money for no public benefit.

Despite the inaccurate portrayal in the Herald-Times, it's not an "audit." Audits have the force of law, this doesn't. It's a political stunt.

Full of sound and fury, but ultimately signifying nothing.

Flushing it away

Except for the cost. It's $44,000 flushed down the toilet, flushed because the council and the commissioners have pledged to "work together" to waste taxpayer dollars.

Because what hasn't been reported, what's been ignored by the paper and the Democrats, is the fact that the bogus "audit" is toothless. It cannot change anything.

Like the Republicans did at the national level, Democrats mimic at the local. The council has become the commissioners' rubber stamp.

Just because they all belong to the same party and that they've forgotten their mandate to check and balance. It's the fiscal body's responsibility to call "bullshit" on the administration, but in the spirit of "cooperation," a term delighted by the Herald-Times, they seem to have abdicated that responsibility.

Margaret Thatcher once said "compromise is what you get when both sides lose." I wish she'd said it about intra-government co-operation, instead.

Gregory Travis can be reached at