By ROSS DAY
You may not realize it yet, but the federal government is on the verge of shutting itself down because lawmakers in Congress and the president cannot agree on a final budget. The funny thing is that the United States Congress (and the President) have not had a budget since 2009. Beginning in 2009, the Congress passed a series of “continuing resolutions” – or stop-gap measures intended to keep the government “open” – while the Congress and the president worked out a final budget plan.
Now, the president has said “no more continuing resolutions,” which means that without a final budget deal by today, the federal government is going to shut its doors.
Why has President Obama suddenly decided against signing any more continuing resolutions, when he has been approving these temporary spending measures since 2009? The answer: politics.
From 2009 until the beginning of 2011, the Democrats (President Obama’s party) controlled both houses of the Congress. If the government shut down, it would make the President and the Congress look bad. So the president and the Congress continued to pass continuing resolutions to avoid looking bad to the American electorate.
Now that Republicans control the House of Representatives, the President and his advisors are hoping that in the event of a government shut down, the public will point the finger of blame at the Republicans. Just wait, President Obama and Congressional Democrats will proclaim “The government never shut down while the Democrats were in control!”
Do you think if the Democrats controlled both houses of the Congress the president would be this opposed to the use of continuing resolutions? Me neither.
This may all seem like political inside baseball. I mean, who cares if the government shuts down this weekend, the government isn’t open on the weekends anyway.
I worked in the Congress in 1995, the last time there was a government shut down caused by a stalemate between the president (Bill Clinton) and the Congress (then both chambers were controlled by Republicans). What happened? President Clinton ordered all of the national parks and monuments closed. He ordered all of the social security offices closed. He ordered all of the welfare agencies closed.
Immediately there were pictures on television of school kids from Florida, who had saved for a year for a trip to Washington, D.C., being locked out of the Washington Monument. The networks had pictures of seniors looking into the windows of closed social security offices asking “When will I get my benefits?” And there were pictures of the poor who could not get food stamps (yes, they had food stamps back then) so they could eat.
Those images caused congressional Republicans to cave in and approve the spending demands of the Clinton administration.
If the federal government indeed shuts down this weekend, I would expect to see those same images on the television on Monday. Sure, there will be plenty of money available to fund the White House and its army of staffers, and there will be plenty of money to fund the military and, yes, money for the Congress. Regulatory agencies will have some money available so they can continue regulating Americans half-to-death. But will there be enough money to keep parks open, or to help seniors or the poor? Strangely, no.
The fact is that we have a lot of government. A friend of mine used to have a sign that read “Be glad you don’t get all the government you pay for.” While we all paid our taxes, and were promised certain services for those taxes, the federal government has spent all of our money and now wants more. And the White House will use political pressure to try to force Republicans to spend beyond our means.
Republicans will argue the glass is half full. Democrats will argue the glass is half empty. When in reality, the glass is actually two timess too big.
Ross Day lives in Keizer.