Who’s To Blame For the Government Shutdown?

It’s the beginning of October.  It’s the time of year where we should be discussing fall colors on the trees, the shorter days, college football, and for some of us, postseason baseball.  However, on this first day of October, we are all talking about the shutdown of the federal government as a result of Congress’ inability to work together to fund the government.

Both chambers of Congress, the House under the leadership of the Republicans and the Senate under the leadership of the Democrats, have been playing “chicken” with  each other to see who would blink first.  Sadly, neither side did in this instance.  It is the first shutdown since 1996.  As many times as we have gone to the brink in the last few years only to have a deal reached at the 11th hour, it was only a matter of time before we missed one and the government shut down.  We have all watched it time and time again to dismay, and yet the members of Congress still haven’t gotten the message that this is not a way to govern.

This past week has been the real ping-pong match.  Up until then, it was all being done fairly lazily until then.  Then bills started flying out of the House and the Senate would reject them.  The House was essentially passing bills that they knew the Senate (and the President) would not pass (or sign).  Regardless, they still did it anyway.  Their last attempt was late on Saturday.  House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) then went to the floor and criticized the Senate for being out of session on Sunday and said that they should return in order to vote on the bill.  I must beg the Speaker’s pardon when I state that I don’t think he has much room to complain.  The Senate is in session 5-days a week.  The House has been in session 3-4 days a week.  After coming back from their month-long August recess, the House only had 9-working days to pass something.  (They did work over the weekend, so that number bumps up to 11-days.)  This was not an unforeseen situation.  He could have called the House back even earlier to work through this mess.

The Senate lost an entire day of debate and voting, and giving a bill back to the House a day sooner, by Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) filibuster over the Affordable Care Act in which at one point he started reading Dr. Seuss.  Talk about a waste of time and money.  I don’t argue with the talking filibuster.  That is the way a filibuster should be done.  So I do give him some props for that.  However, when you start reading Dr. Seuss and get off topic, then your filibuster is over and you should sit down.  You made your point, and the Senate needed to get back to work.  Speaker Boehner then attempts to organize a conference committee late on Monday night after the Senate again votes down a House bill which should have been no surprise.  This is something that should have been done after the first bill met with failure instead of at the last possible moment.  The Democrats won’t meet with them, which is a huge mistake.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he won’t meet with Republicans “with a gun to his head.”  Though that probably isn’t the best way to start a negotiation; however, it’s time to put these things aside and sit down together.

congressAs much as the two parties love pointing fingers at each other and attempting to place blame, it is both of their faults.  This is a made up scenario because of their inability to pass a budget.  That’s right.  Congress has completely made up this mess that we find ourselves in.  The House can tout that they passed a budget earlier this year and have every year.  The Senate passed a budget earlier this year for the first time in years after being forced to do so.  But that is where everything stopped.  The leadership was unwilling to meet in conference to work out the differences and to compromise on an actual budget that could pass both chambers.  If they had done so, then it is quite possible that today wouldn’t have been a big deal at all.  It’s called “doing your job” and most Americans do it every time they go into work and can’t figure out why members of Congress can’t seem to grasp it.  And Speaker Boehner likes to criticize the Senate for only voting on the House bills but offering none of their own.  I think he has forgotten that the Constitution states that appropriation bills must all start in the House.  Then the Senate can amend the bill and send it back or pass it.  The Senate leadership has stated that it wants a clean Continuing Resolution while the House wants a CR tied with the defunding (or delay) of the Affordable Care Act.  The ironic thing in this debate though is that even with the government shut down, the healthcare exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act opened for business.  But House Republicans still remain adamant about shutting it all down.

The people that are really hurt by all of this are the federal workers.  They are the ones that are out of work and out of money.  How does that help our struggling economy.  Meanwhile, members of Congress are still able to collect their paychecks though some, like Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) among others, have refused their paychecks during this shutdown.  Congress should pass a bill now that would strip away all congressional salaries during any government shutdown.  Though it wouldn’t take effect until 2015 due to the 27th Amendment, it would still send a strong message to future members of Congress… get your stuff in order and do your job.  Members of Congress shouldn’t be paid if federal workers aren’t.  Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) along with 30 House Democrats and 3 Virginia Republicans have proposed a bill that would allow full, retroactive pay to all federal workers that are furloughed as a result of the shutdown.  This should be a unanimous vote from both chambers as the people should not pay for Congress’ inability to do its job.

And where is the President in all of this… as many Congressional Republicans have been asking.  It’s quite simple.  He is trying to stay out of the fray as much as possible.  Remember, the President isn’t part of the Legislative Branch.  He is part of the Executive Branch.  The Constitution split these branches and their subsequent powers up for a reason.  In the 1996 shutdown, the difference was between Congress (both chambers under Republican control) and the President.  That was different.  This time, the difference is between the two chambers of Congress and does not involve the President until the bill reaches his desk.  If he vetoes it, then he becomes part of it, but until then, this is a strictly Legislative situation.

Who’s to blame for the government shut down?  Both parties in both chambers simply because they’d rather be in front of the cameras doing political grandstanding instead of talking to each other and passing the necessary legislation to keep our government going.  Enough of this posturing.  It’s time to sit down and get to work… something that should have already been done.  And don’t just kick the can down the road further.  Actually get this done by passing a full budget.  Do your job.  If you can’t even work together or be civil with each other, then there’s no reason for you to be even be there.  On January 1, 1812, John Adams wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson.  It was the first letter that had been written between the two since 1801 (not including a brief set of letters between Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1804).  Jefferson responded in kind upon receiving the letter from his old friend.  At the end of that letter he wrote, “No circumstances have lessened the interest I feel in these particulars respecting yourself; none have suspended for one moment my sincere esteem for you; and I now salute you with unchanged affections and respect.”  These were two men bound by friendship and separated by politics.  Somehow, through it all, they were able to maintain that friendship until their parting breaths.  Our current congressional leaders need to learn something from these two.  Respect and civility.  Now get to work.  The American people are watching and waiting for all of you to step up.


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