As I’m writing this, the United States government shutdown is in its record-breaking fourth week.
The previous record was in 1996 when the Bill Clinton administration was facing a Republican Congress. The Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, wanted to raise Medicare premiums and cut taxes mainly for the wealthy. After 21 days, a compromise was reached. Clinton got a smaller tax cut, Republicans got cuts in Medicare.
Neither side was happy about it, which is pretty much the definition of a compromise.
This shutdown will be much longer.
You rarely hear about grand deals and the word “compromise” anymore. A large part of the reason was the rise of the Tea Party in 2009. This conservative grass-roots movement was ostensibly to fight for lower taxes, but it quickly morphed into an all-or-nothing scorched-earth philosophy of governing.
Those Republican legislators who tried to reach across the aisle to make deals to get bills passed were excoriated and “primaried” with hard-core right-wing challengers. Due to gerrymandered districts, the winner of the primary was assured victory in the general election, and our Congress has since become more and more partisan ever since.
In Texas this has generated U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert, who believes that Jesus hates tax increases, and in the Northeast it generated Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is an avowed Democratic-Socialist.
I doubt they will be out golfing together and making legislative deals to move our country forward.
To recap our current government shutdown situation: On Dec. 19, the Republican-controlled Senate passed a spending bill that would keep the government open, punting the fight for funding for Trump’s border wall to this year. But before the House could approve the bill, right-wing pundits quickly took to the airways to encourage Trump to reject it. The House, still in Republican hands, did pass a spending bill with border wall money in it, but that stalled in the Senate, which shut down the government.
Here lies the dilemma for the Republican Party: It is the party that rails against government. Reagan said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, said “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
The drumbeat of “government is bad” has been droning for so long, the GOP elected a president who is totally ignorant of how government works. Many of my conservative co-workers in early 2017 expressed how proud they were to finally have a businessman in the White House in lieu of the usual seasoned elected official.
Democrats, on the other hand, have historically believed the U.S. government can be a force for good and can be a powerful player in implementing better environmental and social programs and fairer wealth distribution with a progressive tax code.
Government is not run like a business — for good reason, since it is not a profit-making enterprise but an organization of the people, by the people and for the people. Our government works best when its leaders are dedicated to good government.
Recent polling verifies this philosophical split between Republicans and Democrats. A Pew Research poll found that 79 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents see the shutdown as a “very serious” problem for the country, but just 35 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners feel the same way.
The anti-government GOP that has been in charge for the past two years has led our country to this point in time.
This is why the perfect storm has gathered to make this government shutdown the longest in U.S. history:
(1) We have a president who had never been elected to office and who has never had to compromise with others.
(2) His party has won elections on the argument that government is bad, and therefore the fallout from their base for supporting a shutdown will be minimal.
(3) The House of Representatives is now led by Democratic Party leaders who believe tax money spent on an unnecessary wall along the southern border is a poor use our our resources.
The only thing that will end this impasse will be the realization from the American people that they actually like our government to work and work well.