The shutdown and debt ceiling debates are over — at least for the next 60 days or so. The questions that remain are what did all this mean? And where do we go from here?
Understandably, many have been frustrated by the process, and to many more the goings-on of Washington appeared as nothing more than pure political belligerence.
Depending on one’s philosophical perspective, it was naturally the “other” side that was being difficult, but in fact, the debate and the issues at play are more complex.
In this paper on Monday, young Joe Kennedy, who took Barney Frank’s seat in Congress, observed, “The media makes it out to be a knock-down, bare-knuckled brawl every day. Everyone here got elected. Everyone here got someone to vote for them. Everyone is genuinely trying to do the right thing for the country.”
While he may be a touch magnanimous, there is a larger truth in what he was saying. Congress reflects the country’s division on what should come next, and in many ways what’s happening is a product of divided government.
After all, it was Winston Churchill who noted, “The beauty of the American political system was that it always did the right thing ... after exhausting every other possible remedy.”
Here are a few thoughts on what all this means:
One, the system actually worked. Two always beats one in politics, and in this case, the White House and Senate view was always destined to prevail given those numbers.
The House held a viewpoint and used the tools available to advance that view.
That is nothing to disparage because at least in the American system there is a way for the minority to try and advance its case.
Two, we talk rather than shoot each other in our system of government.
I get it that listening to all that was reported led many to feel like shooting themselves or the television, but over the last 35 years there have been 53 debt limit increases and 17 government shutdowns — and with the exception of a handful of automatic debt extensions all were negotiated. The president clearly held the upper ground and was accordingly dismissive in negotiating, but not doing so was still unusual.
As a country we have differences, and lots of them — but we have sat down and ironed them out for over 200 years, and continuing to do so is vital.
Three, while it may not have been done as we many would like, asking questions is the American way. This is particularly the case on constitutional questions, and many members in the House had them about the president’s unilateral decisions in enforcing his own law.
The founding fathers charged the executive branch with enacting whole laws, never parts of it at their discretion. The idea of corporations or members of Congress and their staffs being exempt from a law rubbed many of us the wrong way, and accordingly we fought it.
Finally, it always comes back to the money. Washington is spending at a rate that is unsustainable, and spending problems don’t get better with time.
The passage of a “clean” continuing resolution begs its ending date and that’s just two months away. At that point we will find ourselves right back in the current impasse because we still haven’t resolved the underlying budget issue.
The Congressional Budget Office says in just 12 years there will only be enough money for interest and entitlement spending — and no other federal government spending — without borrowing, cutting or taxing significantly more.
One can argue about the tactics and timing of this particular debate — the nexus here was Republicans’ question on whether we can afford another $1 trillion dollar entitlement — but it underscores the degree to which it’s past time for this debate.
Unfortunately, the underlying challenges that face our nation debated during this shutdown still stand.
If they are not resolved this shutdown will serve as but a minor tremor to the larger financial shutdown that will ultimately ensue if both the financial and constitutional issues debated over these weeks are not resolved.
We have time between now and that next debate; let’s hope we use it wisely.
Mark Sanford, a Republican, represents South Carolina’s 1st District in the U.S. House.
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