Lock Congress in bunker until shutdown is ended

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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If and when this episode of national hostage-taking ends with a last-minute deal to fund the federal government and avoid a debt-ceiling calamity, the sad reality is that this relief will only be temporary.

The way things work now, a deal just creates a new countdown for the next cycle of budgetary brinkmanship.


Unless America listens to Donna Brown of Atlantis, Fla.

Brown has come up with a nuclear option — literally — that would surely cure all the unnecessary posturing, delay and financial-market traumas caused by future flirtations with government shutdowns and debt-ceiling impasses.

Brown got the idea after visiting the once-secret government bunker at The Greenbrier, a resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

The massive bomb shelter with three-foot-thick concrete walls was secretly built into a hillside in the Blue Ridge Mountains by the Eisenhower administration. The cavernous bunker was constructed to accommodate both houses of Congress in the event of a nuclear strike against the United States.

It was envisioned as the way U.S. government would function after nuclear Armageddon.

Members of Congress would sleep in the rows of Spartan bunks, eat no-frills food stocked there for them and meet in large rooms to keep the federal government alive in a post-nuclear environment.

Existence of the bunker was revealed in 1992, and since then, it has functioned as a tourist attraction. But Brown sees the potential for its use again.

“How about sending the House and Senate there?” Brown wrote me. “Think it might get some movement?”

It’s worth a try. So I’ve been developing the fine print for how the Donna Brown Nuclear Option of Congressional Budget Negotiations would work:

Members of Congress would have to report to the bunker if a potential shutdown or default isn’t solved 30 days before its deadline.

No staffers, party operatives or family members. No cellphones. No flag lapel pins, either.

Members of Congress would be issued gray jumpsuits and then shown to their bunks, where they will each find a small footlocker, which would contain personal toilet items, a copy of the Constitution and a Nerf baseball bat (for resolving difficult negotiations).

There will be no reason to posture, because the bunker will have no access to the outside world.

Without appearances on cable news, workouts at the congressional gym, lunches with K Street lobbyists or haircuts at the congressional hair salon, members of Congress will have nothing to do but to talk to the other 534 lawmakers in the bunker.

Because they won’t waste large swaths of the day raising money for their next campaigns or making inane speeches to special-interest groups, some lawmakers will be adrift for days, maybe even weeks, in this new environment.

Some will probably gag on the food, too, considering that their diet will consist solely of the Meals Ready To Eat that are fed to America’s troops in Afghanistan.

And the one-roll-per-member rule on toilet paper will certainly redefine who the real conservatives are.

America will learn of their progress by adapting the Vatican’s papal notification system. At the end of every day, a few plumes of smoke will billow from the bunker. When the smoke turns green, the steel-reinforced vault door at the entrance of the bunker will be opened, and Americans will know we have a functioning Congress again.

Sure, there might be some Lord of the Flies moments in the bunker. But like Las Vegas, what goes on in the bunker, stays in the bunker.

It’s a small price to pay to have one of the three branches of the federal government working again. And one day, we will all come to regard Donna Brown as a true American hero.

Frank Cerabino writes for The Palm Beach Post. frank_cerabino@pbpost.com

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