A Ransom Note from Congress
The devolution of the United States Government
Published: Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 16:10
At last, our government has reached a new peak in its dysfunction. On Tuesday morning, the federal government went into shutdown mode after the House and the Senate could not agree on a budget bill for the new fiscal year.
Normally a routine task, the passing of a spending resolution was blocked by a faction of tea party Republicans in the House, who insisted upon the inclusion of language in the spending bill that defunded the Affordable Care Act. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, refused outright to pass such a bill, and subsequently stripped the language about the Affordable Care Act before sending it back to the House.
Whereupon the Republicans in the House once again wrote in language that would defund the Affordable Care Act. And once again sent the bill to the Senate. And the Senate once again rejected the bill, voting straight down party lines to do so with a vote of 54-46.
So this is our government now. No longer confined to party-line voting, bipartisanism has reached an all-time high. Our congress has been moving steadily towards dysfunctional gridlock for the better part of the last decade, but until now it has always managed, at the very least, to continue providing the essential services it always has to its citizens.
Which means this is a new low. Sure, the government has shut down a number of times before, most recently during the Clinton Administration in 1996. But this is the first time that it has happened because a number of representatives decided to hold the entire country for ransom, in order to defund a bill that has just begun to come into effect.
The Affordable Care Act passed both houses of Congress, passed the President’s desk, and was ratified as constitutional by the Supreme Court. Any kid who watched Schoolhouse Rock when they were six knows that this means the Affordable Care Act was supported by all three branches of government, meaning that a majority of our elected officials had to approve it.
Which, in a representative democracy, means we can imply that a majority of Americans agree with the tenets of the Affordable Care Act. So what right do the tea-party Republicans in the House of Representatives have to try to defund the law?
There will be a lot of finger-pointing over the next few days in Washington, before Congress gets its act together and decides to pass a budget. The Republicans in the house will point to the Democrats in the Senate, saying it is their fault for not even considering any type of defunding of the Affordable Care Act.
But do not get it twisted. Don’t let the tea partiers fool you into thinking this isn’t on their shoulders. Remember, the tea party is a libertarian faction of the Republican party—in other words, they are anti-government representatives. They don’t like the government; they don’t want it to have a strong hand in our lives.
Which means it makes sense, then, that they are okay with shutting down the government. No Democrat or Republican with any sense of duty to their constituents would allow this to happen under normal circumstances. But when anti-government representatives hold the nation hostage over a bill they have failed to get repealed like two dozen times, you can rest assured that normal circumstances are past us.
I believe the best hope for moving past this impasse lies with moderate Republicans in the house. Sooner than later, hopefully, they will abandon their fellow party members and move away from defunding the Affordable Care Act and decide to simply go ahead and pass a budget.
Because until that happens, the entire nation will be distracted from its everyday tasks. The federal government won’t be able to focus on more pressing national issues it is facing in the likes of energy development, war in Syria and peace talks with Iran.
Yes, our government has reached a new peak in its dysfunction. Let us hope this is the highest peak it will ever achieve, because I am not sure how long our government can remain effective if it is constantly being held for ransom.
Nathan is a senior majoring in landscape architecture. Follow him on twitter @nwstottler.