Last week, the United States Congress failed to pass a new appropriations bill before the beginning of the new fiscal year, so the government shut down. Republicans, led by a group consisting mainly of Tea Party freshmen, are determined to use the shutdown and the upcoming debt-ceiling deadline to win policy concessions. Is this policy worth it? Our writers debate the issue. Photos by Sunny Kang and Quentin Heilbroner.
I’m a Medill sophomore from Cleveland, Ohio. I consider myself very socially conservative, and my Catholic upbringing certainly helped shaped this. My individual life experiences and introspection have strengthened these foundations, so my beliefs are the product of both religious and personal means.
I am slightly more moderate when it comes to fiscal matters, but I still fall within the realm of conservatism. Both my dad and maternal grandfather lost their fathers at a young age, so their stories of hard work and self-determination to make their own living have inspired me. I firmly believe in the power of the human spirit, and the oft-cited Chinese parable of “Give a man a fish ... teach a man to fish ...” perfectly sums up my belief on the government’s proper role. I am not opposed on principle to most federal programs, but I believe that their aim should be to make themselves unnecessary over time. The government should focus less on instantly solving its citizens’ problems and focus more on helping the people forge their own solutions.
As the government shutdown approaches the start of its second week, it is imperative that we move beyond the blame game. The one constant in an otherwise chaotic week in Washington has been the universal scapegoating of the Republican Party for their actions.
I am not here to suggest the Republican Party shouldn’t shoulder a majority of the responsibility for bringing about the shutdown with their anti-Obamacare continuing resolution. What I am here to suggest is that this period of collective anger and disappointment in our government can serve as a wake-up call of sorts.
Let me make one point clear before continuing. My support of the shutdown does not include how long it has lasted. The Democrats and Republicans owe it to the American people (and their own reputations) to sit down immediately and hammer out a truce. About 800,000 federal employees have spent this past week either at home or working without pay. It’s time to get them back to work.
Without any finger pointing of any kind, the unfortunate truth is that the Congress we know today is extremely dysfunctional. When the situation arises where the two houses are controlled by separate parties, the country inevitably can count on two years of policy gridlock. Since gaining control of the House in 2010, the Republicans have been adamant of exercising all the power they can in their only sphere of substantial influence. In other words, it was less than shocking when the deadline to pass a new budget (or a continuing resolution) came and went without Congress agreeing.
The bulk of the reason for the vilification of the Republican Party stems from the combination of Ted Cruz’s ego-driven 21-hour filibuster and House Republicans’ unflinching resolve to defund Obamacare. Although it led to the quandary of shutdown that we are struggling to extricate ourselves from now, I am encouraged by the stand the Republicans took.
The truth of the matter is that Congress has been adopting the “we’ll worry about it next year” mentality for too long when it comes to the federal budget. With the exception of the suspicious pork-filled omnibus spending bill of 2009, Congress has not passed a legitimate spending bill since 1997. These continuing resolutions that have been passed almost every year (excluding last week of course) don’t even come close to representing the contemporary needs of the country. They merely set the economic goals of our country back a year, allowing not only the existing fiscal problems to fester, but the ones of the upcoming year as well. Even though the House Republicans created the continuing resolution which was rejected by the Senate, their aim extends further than keeping the status quo.
The negative effects of CRs outweigh the positive ones. Bypassing the debate and discord and taking the easy way out these past years has finally caught up to Congress. I give hard-earned kudos to the Republicans for holding their ground. There are certain positive aspects of reasonable national debt, but we are simply way too far into the red to continue with these avoidant tactics. It is not 1997, nor is it even anywhere near 2009 fiscally. Just think of all the financial problems we have faced in just the Obama years, from the debt ceiling crisis two years ago to the sequester earlier this year. We cannot keep throwing money at these problems to make them go away, nor can we afford to take on new budget-draining programs. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act simply places too much strain on an already-strained budget, and its rocky debut this week is a testimony to the fact that the system is far from a panacea to America’s health care issues. This country needs large changes now, and that’s exactly what the Republicans realize.
However, the point made by the shutdown being realized has run its course. We are a quarter of the way to the longest shutdown in history (almost four weeks in 1995), and there is not much hope for resolution in the immediate future. At this point, America is risking not only further internal turmoil and frustration from the lack of an operational government, but we are putting out a less-than-stellar reputation to the rest of the world. It’s time for the Democrats to come down from their self-imposed high ground of blamelessness for this fiasco and get the government to work again. That being said, I also think that the Republicans have made their agenda abundantly clear, and likewise should return to a compromise-based mentality. Those 800,000 workers need to go back to work, and our national parks and agencies have been caught in the crossfire for long enough. The Republican-imposed shutdown brings up a lot of good discussion and points to consider about the state of our government, but nonetheless should be resolved as soon as possible to avoid long-term woes.
I’m a terminally undecided Weinberg sophomore from a little place smack dab in the middle of America's heartland: Manhattan. Politically speaking, I'm all over the map, with a deep-seated hatred of following party orthodoxy and an obnoxiously pragmatic streak, but I average out somewhat left of center, especially on economic issues.
My upbringing and current residence in New York City have shown me the best and the worst that liberalism has to offer, while the years of my childhood living in a tiny, conservative Massachusetts town have (I hope) kept me from being totally insulated in that liberal bubble. Living in these two worlds has given me no choice but to see how at least some people from each side (if you can even call the two major parties "sides") live, and I personally believe that the best way to truly understand an issue is to be able to understand the arguments made by those with whom you disagree. Nuance is so often and so easily thrown away in favor of alarmist donation pleas and sound-byte sloganeering, and it's making our political process more toxic by the day.
Journalistic legend H.L. Mencken once said that all great articles should begin with a Chumbawumba quote, so it would be unforgiveable not to start this piece by asking the question, “Do you suffer from long-term memory loss?” to an increasingly broken and pathetic Legislative Branch. We’ve been here before, and it wasn’t fun.
However, there are many in Congress and around the nation who accept and embrace the new shutdown, and even embrace it as an unpleasant but necessary step towards a more fiscally stable and 'Obamacare'-free America. Sure, the Affordable Care Act was signed into law years ago, and sure, the Republicans are only holding onto the House of Representatives thanks to favorably-drawn electoral districts (the Democrats actually received more house votes in 2012, and if House representation was truly proportional, we’d have Speaker Pelosi again right now), but that isn’t stopping Senator Ted Cruz and his allies – a minority even within their own party – from doing their best to make sure that any piece of legislation sponsored by a member of Harry Reid’s caucus goes nowhere and does nothing.
Because the shutdown only affects things deemed “non-essential,” like, say, hundreds of thousands of people who make their living working government jobs, we’re not quite in full-on national crisis mode yet, but we’re getting closer every day. Even though those in the military have been spared from the shutdown, the civilian workforce of U.S. intelligence services has been slashed dramatically, many FDA food inspectors have been furloughed, and over half of Department of Health and Human Services workers are staying home as well. This leads to higher food prices, delays in Social Security payments and an intelligence sector working at reduced capacity, all while the implementation of the Affordable Care Act continues. Oh, and about the deficit? The shutdown actually increases spending, and delays future growth to boot.
There are also consequences that are more difficult to quantify than the number of workers furloughed. The United States has, as a whole, been growing somewhat faster than 2009 and 2010, but the pace of recovery has still been sluggish and halting. The last thing that America needs is a minority segment of the minority party holding the government hostage over a bill that has already been passed. That’s not how a functional nation works. The way to repeal legislation isn’t to hold the government hostage, wasting billions of dollars and cutting the financial lifeline of hundreds of thousands of Americans in the process. Imagine if the Democratic Party had turned their opposition to President Bush’s tax cuts (which, incidentally, cost the government over $1.5 billion in the seven years after their enactment, and continue to increase the debt) into an excuse to close down Washington until those cuts were repealed. Republicans would be outraged, and rightly so. By allowing themselves to become a party that condones measures this radical to simply win some political points, the Republicans in Congress not only hurt the nation as a whole, but the legislative process. After the endless obstructionism of the current GOP, it is hard to picture House and Senate Democrats being open to forging compromises with a president who endorsed, or even helped bring about, the shutdown.
Now, although the Democratic Party is not at fault for the shutdown, it is at fault for helping create an atmosphere in which the Ted Cruz wing of the GOP can take the reins of the government and ride it Strangelove-style straight into shutdown without having to worry too much about the political ramifications. President Obama and his allies have been crying “extreme!” so frequently that the very phrase has lost much of its meaning. This has been a fairly successful approach for the party in the last few election cycles (and the presence of truly insane candidates along the lines of Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell certainly gave that image a boost), but it also leaves the party with nothing new to say when something truly dangerously extreme occurs. Every time Democrats blasted moderates like Chris Christie or Jeb Bush as far-right, the “dangerously radical” message lost a bit of its credibility, and packed less of a punch for times when it was truly needed.
The Democrats might be to blame for a weak response, but their role in the mess that Washington has become is dwarfed by that of the extreme anti-government sector of the Republican Party that is dead-set on stopping President Obama from accomplishing anything at all. There is a space for the Republican Party in Washington – a very important one. Balance is needed for a political system to function, but in order to provide that balance, the party of Lincoln must move away from its blind crusades, and back towards the real world.