Here’s the problem with the government shutdown — it didn’t go far enough.
Sure, it’s hurting a lot of people. Cancer patients, science researchers, federal employees, astronauts, congressional staffers (though Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, regard most of theirs as “essential”). The longer it goes on, the more it will hurt.
But too many people got a pass. Congress members themselves. Border Patrol agents. FBI agents. Soldiers, sailors, Marines. Social Security recipients. Meat inspectors. Patients in veterans hospitals. Certain National Security Agency and CIA spies. Air traffic controllers. The people running the Affordable Care Act sign-up.
These people were deemed “essential,” or else they’re spending money that’s already been appropriated. Many of them perform duties vital to national security or public health. Many more Americans would suffer, and some of them would die, without the government’s assistance. Commerce would dry up.
Which is precisely the point. For all of the anti-government fervor on the right wing, for all of the Grover Norquist wannabes who want government to be of drownable size, the federal government is the product of 237 years worth of collective wisdom and "small-R" republican democracy.
As a nation, we have decided that government will perform certain duties. We can argue about which of them are vital, but those discussions should take place calmly and rationally, not at the point of a gun held by greedy people.
Too many of us have no idea how much we depend on the government. We are reminded of that unfortunately spelled sign at a tea party rally saying, “Government keep your hands off my Medicare.”
If we shut the whole thing down, the nation would come to a grinding halt — for about 20 minutes.
The quasi-shutdown that began at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday is likely to last another week or two, or until enough Republicans in the House of Representatives will join with Democrats to sign a discharge petition and put a new budget resolution on the floor.
The sanity caucus within the GOP knows where the blame is falling; they can read the polls. In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Mr. Blunt tried valiantly to share it, saying, “Everybody is to blame here. The Congress is not doing the work that the Congress is supposed to do. And the president is not leading.”
How, exactly, is President Barack Obama not leading? He has agreed to let Congress fund government at the Draconian levels it insisted on by passing deep sequester cuts. But because he won’t give in on the Affordable Care Act, his signature domestic achievement, he’s not leading? Only if you define leadership as, say, trading guns for hostages can this be true.
Narrowly the blame here lies with the approximately three dozen Republicans from solidly safe districts who have confused right-wing messaging with leadership. They are joined by several dozen more GOP members, including Rep. Ann Wagner, of Ballwin, who are more worried about primary challenges from the right than fulfilling their constitutional duties. They are putting personal political interests ahead of the public interest.
This is less a government shutdown than a Republican Party implosion. This is not a happy thought for the party of Lincoln, of Theodore Roosevelt, of Dwight Eisenhower and yes, even the sainted Ronald Reagan. The lunatics are running the GOP asylum.
The only saving grace for the Republicans is that Democrats are unlikely to be able to capitalize on it, unless they somehow can mobilize their base in off-year and down-ticket elections. Throughout the south and the might-as-well-be-south, like Missouri, Republicans can win statehouses, which means they can control redistricting, which means they can control the U.S. House, which means this kind of crazed governance will continue.
Which is why we ought to shut the whole thing down, if only for 20 minutes. So people will know what’s at stake.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.