Monday, October 14, 2013


I'm really not sure I understand the logic behind passing bills that fund chunks of the government during the shutdown. Oh? You're disturbed that things we consider necessary to the continued, smooth functioning of the country are no longer operational? Perhaps you should've thought of that before you shut down the government. The only good thing about the current lack of funding for things like cancer research and border security (that both sides unequivocally want) is that while they're offline, there's an incentive to negotiate a deal that gets the whole government back online. If I'm one of the farther-right House Republicans and the President magically signs all my piecemeal bills into law and funds the parts of the government that I consider vital, why would I ever vote for the government to reopen as usual ever again? I've got what I want. This is the kind of thing that people who shut down the government to try and force the President to roll back his signature legislative accomplishment might actually think. Therefore, the President is never going to go along with the one-bill-at-a-time thing for anything other than the most immediately necessary, or politically damaging, pieces. Therefore, I (as a far-right House Republican) should spend my time working out a deal for the government to reopen fully, not passing piecemeal funding bills that I know damn well are not becoming law.

The counterargument is that House Reps should spend their time passing things that will make the President look awful for vetoing, or the Senate look awful for blocking, and thereby gain some credibility and/or political capital. This is a stupid counterargument because 1) they shut down the damn government, an act which at least two-thirds of the country blames them for, and 2) because that's exactly the kind of unforgivably shortsighted, stupid politics that gets us into this mess. It's not about winning. It's not about making the other guy look awful so the voters choose you because you haven't screwed them over in the past week or so. It's about GOOD GOVERNANCE. You win by governing the country more efficiently and cheaply and providing a better product then the other guys. That is how you win, in which case, the country wins. Try to make the other side look awful with every. single. little. thing. you. do. and where are we? Two political parties that hate each others' holy guts and won't voluntarily work together on the basic business of the country. Is there anything more fundamentally necessary to the basic functioning of the United States then the assurance that it will not default on its debts? Could there possibly be anything, other than protecting us all from military defeat, that you would think would warrant more automatic cooperation for the greater benefit of the country? I can't think of any. It's absurd to me that this is even in question. Yes, okay, I get that we're spending far too much money on entitlements and that the defense budget has been too high for a decade, but these are debts that we have already incurred. They are coming due on Thursday. Can you think of anything more economically damaging, besides the shutdown itself or some kind of complete embargo against us, then telling every creditor the US has and every country that might lend us money in the future that we're not good for it? And to do that when we don't have to, at the behest of one half of one branch of government, is like committing seppuku for no damn reason.

I read articles all the time that go into excruciating detail about the problems that this country is facing, and it's not all just doomsaying jeremiads. Much of our infrastructure was built fifty years ago and we've done little at the federal level to overhaul it. Our health care system charges outrageous prices for basic supplies; care is amazingly expensive because nobody's told the hospitals they can't mark up supplies by hundreds of percentage points over the Medicaid price, and people who need medical care RIGHT NOW are in no position to complain about it or to demand a lower price. Our education system is awful and standardized tests might be making it worse. The national security apparatus that we funded and built is harassing American citizens at the borders, has killed Americans without trial abroad, and pushes the limits of its authority to spy on us every way they legally can. We somewhere along the line decided that money was equivalent to speech, which allows the very rich to have way, way too much influence on our elections (It also turns out that the much-ballyhooed 1% do actually have most of of American wealth). Our political campaigns take way too long and are unfathomably expensive, our districts are gerrymandered, and we're racking up hideous amounts of debt thanks to our entitlement programs and war spending. And let's not even talk about climate change. We have all these big, systemic problems that no single entity except the federal government really has the power to fix...

And what is our government doing?

Making problems for itself, trying and failing to fix the problems that it created, and then subsequently making things worse.

We spend all our time fighting each other on the debt limit, on the budget, on all things related to money. When we look away for a moment and stop gnawing each other raw, it's because some other huge issue--Sandy Hook, Syria--came up that captured our attention and couldn't be ignored. I ask you, regardless of politics: if a madman shoots up a school and kills twenty children and their teachers, and we can't even agree afterwards that we need to be better at making sure that mentally ill people don't get firearms, what can we agree on? We fight and we claw and we beat each other bloody and nothing gets done in the end, and when we're done doing nothing on that issue, we get back to doing nothing on the debt.

There was a Boston Globe story a few months ago that summed up, to me, everything that is wrong with our political system. When freshman Democratic House members arrived at their orientation for the 113th Congress, the DCCC told them they were expected to spend four hours a day calling their constituents and asking for money.

Four hours!

Four hours spent in a cramped little cubicle in their party's headquarters, across the street from the Capitol, calling voters and wheedling for dollars. Four hours of fluorescent lights and five-minute breaks and dialing name after name after name after name after name. Four hours of being constantly reminded, with every little thing you do, that you have to raise this money or go home in two years. Every day. At mealtimes, you eat with potential donors. On the weekends, you fly back to your district and beg for money at fundraisers. The Globe interviewed one Republican Congressman who hasn't even rented an apartment in D.C. because he's begging in his district so often. He sleeps on the couch in his office, every night.

Is it any wonder that we're so partisan? Is it any wonder that, with precious few exceptions, everyone in Congress is making every decision with an eye to their next election?

Why wouldn't they?

How could we reasonably expect even the best of them to look beyond it? How could we expect any of these men and women to make decisions that aren't in their own best interest, but might be in the country's? They either raise the money and follow their party or they're done. There's no room anymore for mavericks.

Every young, idealistic freshman Representative or newly minted Senator goes to Washington thinking they can change everything. Those four hours a day are why they cannot.

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