August in Washington always reminds me of the proverbial calm before the storm. That is, the storm of political acrimony and legislative gridlock as the fiscal year draws to an end and appropriations bills pile up in Congress.
But this year the stakes are much higher as some members of Congress are actively threatening a federal gov-wide shutdown over funding of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. "Obamacare" -- which is the law of the land and was even upheld in a Supreme Court case.
This is just the latest example of some in Congress casting meaningless votes fueled by extremist ideology and PR positioning for the 2014 and 2016 elections.
This raises the question of whether today’s political gridlock and persistent demonization of government/feds has gone too far? Moreover, when will it end?
Holding the Economy Hostage
As if threatening to shutter the government isn't bad enough, some in Congress are also playing chicken with defaulting on the national debt -- that is, if any FY 2014 agency appropriations contain money to implement Obamacare. Congress must soon vote to raise the debt ceiling which is fast approaching the current legal limit.
But consider the potential disastrous results of such actions on the tepid economy. The repercussions of a government shutdown and defaulting on the debt may include:
- Another downgrading of America’s credit rating,
- Disruptions in global markets, and
- Causing the economy to slip back into recession.
For federal employees, a shutdown would mean another prolonged furlough (for all practical purposes). This is in addition to the ongoing sequester, lack of hiring and the three-year pay freeze faced by feds.
However, federal employment is already shrinking even while private sector employment is increasing. This is ironic because federal employment helped to stimulate the listless economy during the Great Recession when private sector unemployment skyrocketed.
Moreover, a government shutdown by Congress over Obamacare would be devastating for tens of millions of Americans who lack health insurance. These citizens are mostly the poor and middle class, including racial/ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.
Political Gridlock Run Amok
In short, Congress should never attempt a government shutdown for purely partisan reasons (much less any impractical reason), especially at the expense of an already weak economic recovery that's barely plodding along.
It’s simply irresponsible and immoral that some in Congress would put their own personal and partisan self-interests above the interests of the American people whom they purport to represent.
Is it any wonder then that public approval of Congress remains below 10% at historically low levels?
So what will happen when Congress soon returns to Washington in September? There will only be a few short weeks to pass a multitude of appropriations bills funding the government for FY 2014.
Unfortunately, the so-called "conventional wisdom" is that it doesn't look good.
The prospects for bi-partisan compromise via a legislative "grand bargain" -- perhaps in the form of a mega omnibus appropriations bill -- don't appear promising.
History Repeats Itself
Remember this infamous headline and others like it?
Let's recall the consequences of the last government shutdown precipitated by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995. Will history repeat itself?
Following the 1995 government shutdown Gingrich ultimately lost the Speakership and President Clinton eventually won reelection.
Thus the party responsible for the shutdown paid a harsh price for its antics. That's something today's Congressional leaders should not forget.
Real Suffering by Poor & Middle Class
Nonetheless, the real suffering will be felt by the majority of the American people, save the 1% of the super rich.
Millions of federal civil servants and their families will feel the pain if the government shutters.
If the fragile U.S. economy were a hospital patient its condition would appear barely stable with a long-term prognosis for incremental improvement. So what's the rationale for pulling the plug and placing the patient back in the ICU?
This is simply nonsensical.
In essence, it's a crying shame that the American people -- including millions of loyal, hardworking and dedicated federal civil servants -- are the ones who always appear to take a major hit when it comes to Congressional brinkmanship over the budget.
Will this "do nothing" Congress finally wise up and do something for the good of the American people?
Based on Washington's toxic political climate don't bet on it.
Note: an op-ed on this topic first appeared on Politix.com
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* All views and opinions are those of the author only.