The Government Shutdown – A Teachable Moment

The federal government shutdown engenders dismay, confusion, and even outrage, but who is to blame? Press reports and interviews frequently allege a lack of cooperation and compromise on both sides caused the current shutdown.  So, is it true that there always two sides to a story? Does the argument that Republicans, Democrats and the President refused to compromise hold water? Not in this case.  I believe the fault lies squarely with one group – the House Republicans.

Let’s turn this debacle into a teachable moment – one all American’s, including our children, can understand and appreciate.  Using a couple analogies to elucidate the current situation leads to the inevitable conclusion that House Republicans are the only ones to blame for the shutdown.

What is a Continuing Resolution (CR)?  Congress appropriates funding to federal agencies so the agencies can manage programs that directly (run programs, enforce regulations, etc.) or indirectly (through funding, etc.) serve the American people every fiscal year.  There are 12 funding bills.  Each year, the House and Senate are charged with proscribing funding levels (with the amounts determined through each Chamber’s budget process and Appropriation’s Committee actions).  The individual bills must become law by the end of the fiscal year (September 30) or the funding ends (although not all funding ends).  In recent years, Congress has failed to pass all 12 appropriations bills by the September 30 deadline.  In order to keep government funded, Congress traditionally passes a CR to bridge the gap.

In a nutshell, the CR is about funding the government – not for engaging in major policy debates and changes (although policy is addressed through funding choices and occasionally in the bills, it procedurally that is discouraged).  The House Republicans are muddying the waters by insisting that Congress address policy issues, in this case the Affordable Care Act (ACA), by holding the funding bill hostage.   As we all learn as children, there is a time and place for everything and the government spending bill is not the time and place to address major policy laws.   Compromise on the ACA should take place during a debate on the ACA, not on the CR.   Holding the spending hostage to address a completely unrelated bill will lead to long-term impasse in Congress (yes, it can get worse)!

Let’s make this more clear for everyone.  Below are two analogies that help explain what really happened and is happening.

  1. Imagine teams R and D agree to play a series of games, with the overall winner being the team that wins two out of three games. Team R loses the first game in a fair contest.  Upset, Team R announces they will not play again unless team D agrees to void the first game and start over again.  Should Team D negotiate with Team R?  Are there really two legitimate sides to this argument?  Team R’s unwillingness to honor the agreement (like dealing with a spending bill on its own terms) destroys the entire series.  How can Team R legitimately complain that Team D won’t negotiate under these circumstances?  I would suggest that Team R is at fault and needs to move forward and hope it can legitimately win the next two games.
  2. Imagine that your English teacher gives you an essay assignment.  You dutifully follow the outline provided and hand the paper in on time.  The teacher (let’s call the teacher Mr. R) announces that you won’t get a grade unless you do a math assignment unrelated to the essay and include that in the next draft of the essay.  Does that make sense?  Does it seem fair?  Why should Mr. R arbitrarily require a math assignment for an English essay grade?  And is Mr. R wrong to change the rules for the project midstream?  Would students be justifiably upset and justified in refusing this demand?  Well, I would argue they would.  Teacher R crossed the boundary of what an English teacher should demand and violated the trust of his students.  His actions would fail any test of reasonableness.

So, the premise that all sides need to compromise is fundamentally flawed.  The concept creates a “red herring” designed to confuse and distract the American people from the real actions of the House Republicans.  Their actions are not principled or fair, and potentially will cause significant damage to many Americans and our democracy.  Perhaps the group leading this effort has a more sinister plan – shutting down our government because they do not understand or appreciate its value and role in the lives of Americans.

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7 thoughts on “The Government Shutdown – A Teachable Moment

  1. Hi Allison,
    Like your analogies. Actually, the “R’s” lost 2 out of three games in the series. Not only the original battle, but the Supreme Court ruling that said the Affordable Care Act was constitutional. So when policymakers say it is unconstitutional, they are disagreeing with the Supreme Court.

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