A lot of Americans are not happy about the drama that took the U.S. government right down to the wire last Friday evening with a shutdown avoided by an hour or less. The whole thing seems so wasteful and so silly. Guess what? It is. Every time the country is put through one of these last minute standoffs, it cost millions of dollars. Federal workers put their work aside and get ready to go into a partial shutdown. A lot of workers take their personal items out of their offices, not knowing when they will be allowed back in. Anxiety was the rule for military families who were being told that the paychecks probably would be late.
Our Congress, and sometimes the Executive Branch, too, does things that are totally out of sync with their goal of saving money and having the government work efficiently. In the Army, its called hurry up and wait. You rush to get something done or ready to be done and then wait for months or years to finish the job while the political pot boils. Most voters don’t know about the hidden costs in these political battles and a lot of them probably don’t care anyway.
There was a lot of talk and writing that Congress needs “adult supervision”. They need a lot more than that, but there is no way, short of a serious confrontation (I mean really serious) with the president and the American voting public that things will be changed.
What happened last week was a successful effort by the House Republicans, including the tea party Republicans especially, to hold our government hostage to their demands. While the U.S. government has a firm position that it never negotiates with hostage takers in international matters, in this case all the rules are off the table. The Republicans were rewarded for their hostage taking by getting some of their demands met.
Someone needs to call a halt to this kind of mess. We have established procedures to pass legislation and enact spending limits. Here’s the way it works, folks. The House passes a bill. The Senate considers it and passes it, changed or not, if there are enough votes in the Senate. Then, the two bodies work out their differences, vote once again on passage and send the bill of to the president. If he thinks it won’t ruin the country or his believes he has to sign it for other reasons, that’s just what he does. Each house of Congress is elected by the people, reflecting, generally, their choices at the time the elections were held. It is called representative democracy.
There are no rules and no established procedures that say, “If you don’t get your way, then you are allowed to sit on your hands or hold your breath until you do”. The Republicans took the United States hostage last week. They were rewarded with nearly 40 billion dollars in cut backs in spending this year alone, but they didn’t get all their other smaller provisions they wanted.
There are two forces that can stop this kind of insanity. One is the president of the United States. Obama could say, look, I am not doing any more hostage deals. Vote for what you want, send it along to me and I will veto it if I have to.
The other force that could stop it is the American people. If one million, ten million or more voters rose up and said STOP THE SILLINESS and get on with business, it could end overnight. Last week, there were a few hundred tea pot people holding a rally on Capitol Hill as the deadline came close shouting, “Shut it down! Shut it down!”
Everyone in Washington right now thinks the tea pot movement is a big deal because it, and the money of the very wealthy and outside interest groups, helped put the Republicans in the majority in the House. No one knows if the tea pot effort will be anything in two years or four, but right now everyone is scared. So, a small minority within the Republican party is calling the tune and everybody else is dancing.
For citizens, It is no longer enough just to vote every two and four years and hope for the best. Activism is becoming a necessity. Two and a half years ago, millions of Americans turned out to hear the man who would become president speak in rallies across the country, drawing crowds that had never been seen before in a presidential election. Now, the voices of those who gathered then have been silenced by an angry group who, it seems, would like to see the Federal government reduced to an irrelevancy.
Some of this anger is misdirected, but it doesn’t really matter. People woke up in 2008 and ‘09 and heard about bailouts the size of which could hardly be imagined. 700 billion for the banks? Most people, I will venture, didn’t have any idea that the Federal government could actually handle a deal of that size and still keep going. A substantial portion of the American working public, at the same time, has been falling behind in wages over the last two decades. They were being told that bankers, Wall Street and insurance companies, which give their executives multi-million dollar bonuses, were suddenly in need of taxpayer help. It was too much.
So, through clever propaganda and aggressive undermining of the democratic process, the anger about the bailouts of Wall Street and the car companies has been turned into anger against Washington in general. The question is, when will the rest of the public speak up? When will the rest of the public send instructions to the nation’s capital to stop fighting about petty issues and get on with addressing the real, long term problems?
I do know this beyond other things: as long as the public allows this carnival show to go on, it will do so and it will get a whole lot worse than this week. We are in for a real mess over the next year and, if we all keep silent about it, we probably deserve what we get. The cries heard last week of “shut it down!” should be directed at this insane, immature and fundamentally undemocratic way of handling our national problems.