Reflections on the Government Shutdown
At midnight on October 1, 2013, the government of the most powerful nation in the world shut down.
To many Americans, it didn’t seem to matter. They saw national monuments and parks closed. Some mused at how easily life went on for them without the government. For others, the shutdown was an inconvenience, but it seemed a practical way to pinpoint unnecessary spending in government, or at least a tactic to motivate Washington to actually trim the bloated federal budget.
Still for others, the shutdown brought terrible hardship. Federal workers, many of whom have dedicated their lives in service to our nation, wondered how they would make car payments or afford tuition. Many listened as ostentatious radio commentators, talk show hosts, and even some members of Congress talked about federal workers as if they were nothing more than bait.
Defense leaders, hampered by existing budget cuts and sequestration, walked the sparse halls of the Pentagon no doubt wondering how they could adequately protect the United States from threats. Men and women serving our nation in uniform received notice that they may not get their paychecks; some of them sat halfway across the world wondering if their family members at home would struggle.
The government has been open for two weeks now. Life has returned to normal for most. But where does the shutdown leave us as a nation? It’s easy to move ahead with a sigh of relief, thankful that the episode is over. But I think the thunder squall our nation just went through deserves attention and introspection.
I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting on the disputes, the shutdown, and the so-called compromise. Here are some of my observations.
We can’t continue to hold our national defense hostage.
There are some really terrible provisions of Obamacare. We’re beginning to see indications of that as individuals wade through a malfunctioning website in an attempt to sign up for healthcare plans through exchanges. It’s a mess, and I believe the fight against Obamacare is worth a fight.
However, I opposed shutting down the government. Before I take a vote, I have to ask myself two questions: First, should I ever vote in favor of a piece of legislation that I am convinced will put us on a path that will significantly jeopardize the national security of the United States? Second, does this piece of legislation do that? The answer to the first question is no. The answer to the second, in this case, was yes. Even former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta criticized the legislation for failing to resolve defense cuts under sequestration, which he called a "shameful and tragic period in our American history."
Not only must we find a way in Congress to compromise but we also can’t hold our national defense hostage. Every time we use our national defense as a bargaining chip, we weaken one of the most important pillars of our nation. We are foolish to do so. We must advocate for a strong defense, because it creates a strong America.
We missed opportunities.
We could have met twin goals of funding the federal government and cutting the legs out from under Obamacare. I offered a plan in the House to pass a funding measure to reopen all areas of the government except the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS is the teeth of Obamacare. If we defund the IRS, we defund Obamacare. This plan would have held the IRS hostage – not our veterans, federal employees, warfighters, National Guard, reservists, seniors and defense civilians. It would have created real leverage for those of us who believe we need effective government as well as an end to Obamacare.
We missed the opportunity. We got a mediocre compromise that was a way out instead of a way forward. Instead of solutions that will move our nation ahead, we stayed on the path that will add over half a trillion dollars to our national debt and failed to address the potential furloughs and job losses that our defense civilians will face in 2014 as a result of sequestration.
We’ve kicked the can down the road again. We know from experience that the 2011 budget ‘super committee’ didn’t work. Instead, sequestration went into effect. The special budget committee created through this month’s compromise won’t change the reality of our national defense. Simply put, the compromise created a tomorrow that looks an awful lot like today. We can’t afford to miss any more opportunities.
We need participation of the whole.
I have long believed that in the marketplace of ideas, truth will win out. But for that principle to work, we need a marketplace. Digging our heels in the ground and failing to negotiate is like slamming a door in the face of the American people. It’s undignified and it’s unfair. The people who own this government – American citizens – should have the privilege of being in the marketplace. That is, knowing 1) that their leaders are talking; and 2) what they are talking about. An ability to work well together inspires Americans. The ability to offer ideas in front of the American people – that’s a democracy.
We have inherited a nation worth fighting for. It isn't government that will sustain us. Neither is it a patchwork of compromises to get us from one month to the next. It’s our ability to work together as a whole nation. I will always fight to return reason and analysis to the process of governing. Because only when we can find a way to talk with one another to find common ground, will we rebuild our national defense, restore our fiscal integrity, and return stability to our nation.