Congress should grow up

Dr. Richard Pacelle

My wife reminds me periodically that adults are just tall children. I hesitate to compare members of Congress to children because it insults the latter. It is no wonder that public support for Congress hovers at about 10 percent. That may continue to decline. The government shutdown is only the most recent example of what might be called “politics by any means.”

Each year Congress has to fund government and pay its workers. In most years, there is a battle about spending priorities, but it gets resolved through some sort of compromise. For the first time since 1995 neither side swerved when this high-stakes game of chicken began.  And so, we had the image of a dozen World War II veterans trying to visit the World War II Monument left looking through barriers until some members of Congress (who had incidentally voted to shut down the government) showed up to pull down the barriers.  It made for good theater.

So how does this affect you, the student? Well, student loans are not really in danger unless the shutdown continues for a long period of time. As taxpayers, the shutdown is going to cost you money everyday.  But the real cost is psychic. How many of you are even more turned off by politics and government than you were two days ago?

For those already turned off by politics, here is the dispute in a nutshell. Oct. 1 is the start of the government’s fiscal year (it was moved about three decades ago from July 1 to stop these sorts of things). This year some Republicans, particularly those associated with the Tea Party, decided to tie The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to the budget negotiations. Republicans control the House of Representatives, and they insist that new spending bills include provisions to defund or limit Obamacare. The Senate, controlled by the Democrats, opposes any inroads to the health care bill.  The funny thing is (or maybe it is not so funny) the health care law is not tied to funding the government. Instead it is being held hostage or being used as a bargaining chip, depending on your political perspective.

With the current, almost toxic levels of partisanship, no middle ground has emerged. And so we have the beginning stages of a shutdown of government. And it may be over by the time you read this. Or it may drag on for a few weeks. The last one, in 1995, lasted for 28 non-consecutive days. It is standard procedure to close popular venues like museums, parks and zoos first to raise public consciousness. Well, they finally did something right. The public is paying attention. But don’t worry, despite the shutdown, members of Congress will still be paid.

It is important to put this into the proper context. Politics has gotten particularly nasty with the parties using threats, hearings, the courts, large amounts of money and now a shutdown to accomplish goals that are impossible during normal channels.  Senator Barack Obama ran on a platform that included a health care program. He won the election and enacted his program. Prior to his re-election bid, House Republicans voted 28 times to defund the program. The Senate refused to go along.  The program was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court and survived. It was an issue in the presidential election of 2012, and the voters did not reject the man whose name defines the program. The shutdown is just the latest “politics by any means” effort. Jimmy Carter once said that America had a government as good as its people. I hope not.