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Editorial: Avoid an embarrassing shutdown

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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As the leaves start to turn colors and the temperature drops, the unmistakable fall atmosphere is settling in. And with it comes a growing phenomenon: government shutdown season.

As it so happens, shutdown season also comes with it’s own distinctive characteristics. Inevitably, promises will be made to avoid the shutdown. Appeals for compromise will be heard, and ignored. Political rhetoric will be loaded with more vitriol than usual.

Though the threat from a government shutdown may be more bark than bite, the effects of putting all nonessential government services on hold is certainly a problem, and it reflects poorly on the U.S. as a whole. If the country can’t even manage its own affairs, how can it expect to be a world leader?

Interestingly, the concept of a government shutdown as the result of political bickering is uniquely American. Even when the economy struggles, Americans still enjoy a norm of stability that is absent from many other countries around the world. Where some nations fear, even today, that their government may not be secure, Americans only have to worry about whether their representatives can get along.

Of course, the government shutdown that will occur if Congress cannot come to a budget agreement by Monday night is hardly among the first that the country has gone through. The first, in 1976, happened after President Ford vetoed a funding bill for several government agencies, claiming that government spending was out of control. In that situation, the Democrat-controlled Congress overrode his veto.

A similar scenario unfolded in 1995-96, the last time the federal government shut down. President Clinton continaully battled a Republican-dominated Congress led by then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Clinton’s budget veto caused the government to shut down for a total of 28 days.

Now, however, the circumstances are different. Neither party holds enough seats to override a veto or force a bill through on its own. For better or worse, Congress as a whole must now deal with the situation that it has put itself into.

And that situation is a precarious one indeed. On Sunday, several legislative leaders issued public statements that should cause some concern, mainly because both sides are assigning pre-emptive blame for a shutdown before it even happens.

Democrats are blaming Republicans for a shutdown, because the Republican controlled House would hold back any bill that includes funding for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. And Republicans blame Democrats for not letting them withhold funding for the law.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz pointed a finger at Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“So far, [Reid] has essentially told the House of Representatives and the American people, ‘Go jump in a lake,’ ” Cruz said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “He said, ‘I’m not willing to compromise, I’m not willing to even talk.’ His position is 100 percent of Obamacare must be funded in all instances, and other than that, he’s going to shut the government down.”

And Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin had words for Republicans as well. Asked about compromising on a budget, he replied, “Look who we have to work with on the other side.”

With the House only pushing through bills that defund Obamacare and the Senate rejecting any bill that does so, it seems an unstoppable force has met an immovable object in congressional politics. Unfortunately for the American people, they’re caught right in the middle.


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