Friday, October 11, 2013

Shutdown Chaos: Who is to Blame and Does it Matter? Part 2

In Part 1 of this piece, I discussed the events that immediately led to the current government shutdown and which side (Democrats or Republicans) was actually to blame for closing down the federal government in the first place. In Part 2, I would like to talk about which side is more responsible for keeping the federal government shutdown and how each party has handled itself during the shutdown.

As one might have expected, both sides have waged a war in the media to claim the other side is truly to blame for the government shutdown: Democrats pointing out it was the GOP who initiated the shutdown and the GOP pointing out that it was the Democrats who refused to negotiate before and now during the shutdown. The former I discussed in detail in Part 1, while the later is what I would like to discuss.

At last count, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives has passed no less than ten appropriation bills that will provide funding for what they see as more critical elements of the federal government. These bills have ranged from bills to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs to funding the District of Columbia (whose budget is controlled by Congress believe it or not). All these bills have however been treated as "DOA" upon arrival on the Senate floor.

Democrats have (not surprisingly) decried all these bills as nothing more than attempts by the GOP to shift political and public pressure from themselves and make the Democrats and President out to be the "bad guys" in this struggle. Truth to be told, this is EXACTLY what the GOP had in mind. Passing such bills during a government shutdown is a tactic designed to make your opponents look unreasonable and to some degree, uncaring and could eventually put enough pressure on the other side for them to relent to some degree and give the GOP the upper hand. Sadly though for the GOP, this tactic has so far failed miserably.

Should anyone have doubted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's political will before the shutdown, it seems they were sorely mistaken. Even if his staunch "just say no" attitude makes him look a bit heartless, it doesn't seem to have bothered him one bit and if the events of today are any sign (which I will discuss later), this stance has succeeded in frustrating the GOP efforts to make the Democrats about to be the "bad guys" in all this.

But arguably, the biggest new story of the last week or so is actually not the battle going on in the Capital building in D.C., but the battle being waged "on the ground". Using the government shutdown as a reason (or as others would say, an excuse), many public sites (memorials, national parks, etc) all across the country have been closed and many for the first time.

The prime example of this aggressive shutdown strategy is the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Several groups of veterans of that war made attempts to visit this site (and several others) during the shutdown who encountered clear and obvious attempts to keep them out of these once free and public sites.

Now, this isn't the first time these types of sites have been closed down. Many such sites were also closed during the shutdown of the 1994/1995 while other sides, such as the World War II Memorial have been closed for the first time because of their relatively young age (the memorial was completed in 2004). However, actively attempting to prevent veterans groups from visiting these sites, even during a shutdown, sends a rather cold-hearted message to many Americans, including myself. Many of these folks traveled to D.C. on non-refundable trips paid for by others so they could see these sites that are dedicated to their very personal sacrifices. Now I understand that there is a good case to made for keeping these sites closed, primarily that if they were left open, there is bound to be some folks who will abuse the property in some way (sad to admit, but there are some seriously screwed up people out in the world). Personally though, I could not in good conscious explain to these veterans why I couldn't make an exception for them to visit the very site(s) that are dedicated to the sacrifices they made for this nation. I don't believe for a moment there wasn't some other way of handling the situation then not only barricading the sites but also wiring the gates to these sites shut.

Which brings us back to the many appropriation bills the GOP have passed in House, including one that was passed on Day 2 of the shutdown that would have allowed the National Park Service (who are in-charge of such facilities) to re-open these sites to public. This bill of course, was killed on the Senate floor without hesitation, as per the strategy I discussed before and Democrats immediately pointed out that if the GOP hadn't initiated the government shutdown, none of this would have happened.

This seemingly never-ending chain reaction of blame is what this government shutdown has ultimately devolved into and to be honest, it's rather hard NOT to be ashamed of our government right now because of it.

Also not looking terribly good while the shutdown has continued is the President. Until just a few days ago, he was largely refusing to even talk to GOP leaders on ending the shutdown. He and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have remained steadfast that they would refuse to negotiate with the GOP as long as de-funding or delaying "Obamacare" was on the table.

The bad news for the President is that this to some degree gives the appearance that he is not terribly concerned about the effects of the shutdown and is almost aloof about the whole situation and his actions (or lack thereof to be more precise) during the shutdown may be driving him into previous uncharted polling territory with a new AP poll released a few days ago putting his job approval rating at just 37%, a new low for the President. (1) This is of course only one poll and to date this dramatic drop in approval has not been reflected in other polls.

But, regardless of the seemingly harsh stance they have held throughout the government shutdown, their strategy may be paying off.

At least partially driven by the fast-approaching debt ceiling default deadline (17 October), the GOP has begun to negotiate with the White House directly on re-opening the government and raising the debt ceiling (at least until December) with seemingly limited concessions to the GOP's earlier demands. (2) While no firm agreement yet exists, the fact the GOP is talking about doing so, with little real gain, has certainly sent shock waves throughout the political arena. These reactions to the GOP's apparently capitulation to the Democrats/White House I will discuss in my next piece.

Not to change topics too drastically but I would like to get back to the original theme of this piece, best conveyed by its title: Who is to Blame and Does it Matter?

The former we have discussed quite a bit but I have left the later question alone until now. Does it matter who is to blame for the government shutting down? The simple answer is, not one damn bit.

Given the uber-partisan attitude that has prevailed the last few years in the Washington D.C., something like this was bound to happen. More specifically, the lack of a proper federal budget for at least the last FOUR YEARS it what has ultimately caused this shutdown of the federal government. Since 2009, the federal government has been funded by continuing resolution after continuing resolution with no actual yearly budget ever passed and even the "budget" passed in 2009 was not strictly a proper budget either. It was an "omnibus spending bill", and the following the year the Democrats (who still technically controlled the House) decided not to submit an actual budget because it was not a good time politically. With their defeat in the 2010 mid-term elections, the House came under the control of the GOP while the Senate remained firmly in Democrat hands. With the two chambers of Congress controlled by different parties with VERY different ideas on fiscal strategy, it's no small wonder a properly yearly budget hasn't been passed. Certainly the GOP have proposed many budget plans from the House but they were all so controversial to Democrats that they were largely DOA when they reached the Senate and instead both sides would negotiate a continuing resolution to keep the federal government moving. Previous attempts by the GOP to stand their ground and get at least some of their fiscal strategies into play have largely failed time after time, most often giving the appearance of the GOP caving in to Democratic demands, which in turn has caused great friction within the party as a whole.

And with that, we are back to where we started, with both parties so bitterly ingrained in their own political ideology to even attempt real compromise and the vast majority of Americans quite unhappy with how their government is being run. (3) In other words, for all intensive purposes both parties are to blame for this government shutdown in one way or another. Whether it be for both parties failing in the past to pass a real budget or the GOP for initiating the shutdown or the Democrats outright refusal to negotiate, both parties have blatantly and rather publicly failed the folks they work for: Us.

For that reason, when it seemed the shutdown was imminent, I will admit, I was somewhat glad it was going to happen. For better or worse, a government shutdown was the best way and the most public way for those Americans who weren't aware of how broken our political system really is, to see with their own eyes.

For better or worse, a little political chaos can do a great deal of good and if at the very least, this whole episode has opened many of my fellow Americans' eyes to how their government has devolved into little more than a squabbling, childish, and pathetic gaggle of overpaid and overfed bureaucrats in Washington D.C., then it has been well worth the trouble.

Whether a deal is struck to re-open the government in the next few days is ultimately irrelevant to me. Whenever the government re-opens, nothing will have really changed in the short term. All I can hope is that the ripple effects of this shutdown begin something of a chain-reaction that could ultimately change the status quo in Washington D.C. Whether it means the GOP enters something a civil war between those of the "establishment" branch who have decried the shutdown from the very start to those who are furious the GOP is looking to once again cave-in to the Democrats and the President or even more radically, a new political party growing from the nationwide disgust with both parties in D.C.(4) (an unlikely scenario I admit, but a man can dream can't he?), the bottom line is: the Status Quo must end and Washington D.C. needs to remember who they really work for.


Any opinions and/or views expressed in the above piece are purely those of the author and not of any political or non-political organization(s). Any re-posting of this work MUST include this disclaimer.

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