Maybe by the time this column is published late Friday, the federal government shutdown will be over. I doubt it, though. I don’t know anybody who believes that it’ll end any time soon, and that’s a worrisome sign for the future health of our political system.
There’s been lots of finger-pointing and blame-laying from everyone in D.C. over who’s responsible, but let’s not kid ourselves. The shutdown isn’t the sort of thing where we can shrug and chalk it up to “all politicians are terrible,” not this time. This crisis, like so many others in recent memory, was entirely manufactured by a small but powerful segment of the Republican Party, and anyone who has been paying attention to national politics over the past few years and isn’t a raving Republican partisan knows this perfectly well.
Sadly, that doesn’t include Connecticut’s Republican Party, which jumped on the GOP spin coming out of Washington and repeated it.
Last night, CT’s congressional delegation chose a government shutdown over bipartisan compromise.
— ConnecticutGOP (@CTGOP) October 1, 2013
Right. That’ll help them in the next election.
This is all happening because the Tea Party believes that mild health reforms and government spending is some kind of apocalypse. It isn’t. But that’s what they believe. Because of that I don’t have a lot of faith that the Republicans in Washington will do the sensible thing and fund the government soon. This is a problem — not just for them and their dwindling political potential for 2014 and beyond, and not just for government workers, families on WIC, and national park goers, but for our small-d democratic institutions as a whole.
Sooner or later the government will start up again, just in time for another big manufactured-by-the-Tea Party crisis to lumber into the frame. Next on the schedule is the debt ceiling again, if you were curious. But there must be some way forward through all of this muck, right? Because Americans aren’t just fed up. Many of us are losing faith in our political system’s ability to function at all.
So where do we go from here?
First, states are going to have to get used to innovating solutions to current problems without much or any help from the federal government. This is already happening; some states are even looking to experiment with a single-payer health care system like those used by most of the rest of the developed world. But we can’t wait for Washington to address problems any longer. They simply won’t. Connecticut’s government needs to be proactive, and unafraid to innovate.
Second, it’s becoming clearer that the system itself has some serious flaws. For instance, whenever a Democrat is elected president, Republicans don’t seem to have any compunction in using any and all means to block, harass, delegitimize and disempower them. It’s not actually a coincidence that the last time the government shut down, Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House and Bill Clinton was in the White House.
The way is open, now, for anyone to do this. A political faction can block governance in this country completely if they have control of a single chamber of Congress — or even just 2/5ths of the Senate. This is going to keep happening.
All of this leads me to wonder whether the way the Constitution sets up the federal government is still actually working for us. If a single party can gum up the works so badly that the economy is in danger of crashing and essential government services are not being delivered, this is clearly against the national interest. We are loathe to tinker with our Constitution, and this is usually a great strength. But the turmoil of the last 20 years suggest that we must at least consider reform.
The Senate’s rules allow a single member to hold up nominations and even bills. The very threat of a filibuster requires 60 votes out of 100 to pass just about anything. The House can stop the country from paying its bills and funding its government, and nothing is in place to make this even a little difficult. In countries with a Westminster parliamentary system, failure to pass a budget or fund the government usually means the government falls and new elections are held. Maybe we don’t need something that drastic.
But maybe we do. If we want to keep extremists from driving us all off a cliff so they can have their revolution, we must act.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.