Congress and the White House are circling each other again, and brandishing metaphorical switchblades like two gangbangers, each warning of another government shutdown if they don’t get their way.
Surprisingly, the only people who care are the bored media people, the political party heads, and the people actually making the threats. Most Americans yawn, because they have lived through several shutdowns and never felt a moment of loss or inconvenience.
Depending on how they are counted, there have been at least 10 shutdowns since the mid-70s. Because of the rhetoric and over-the-top metaphors, many people have imagined that all sorts of terrible things would happen. Nevertheless, Social Security checks continued to arrive on time, the military continued to fight or stand guard, and the FBI continued to arrest bad people. Even the billions of dollars in congressional earmarks continued to flow. The only visible losses are temporary closing of the National Parks, and the White House Tours, items that 99 percent of the public are willing to endure.
The most significant damage from a government shutdown occurred in President Clinton’s term. Because some of the White House staff received temporary furloughs, unpaid interns filled some vital roles. One young woman intern took on the awesome responsibility of delivering pizza to the world’s most powerful man. In the process, she purportedly displayed her thong, thereby jump-starting events that eventually led to an impeachment, and a legendary blue dress. That demonstrates the dangers of a government shutdown.
But why would we now have another shutdown? The Republican congress wants to pass a new budget with wording that will deny funding to Planned Parenthood. But the President claims that he must protect Planned Parenthood from a funding loss, and will permit the government to shut down in order to avoid the defunding.
OK, let’s clear away some of the fog.
The Republican Viewpoint: Republicans officially oppose abortion, and believe it should be illegal. Planned Parenthood has become the political symbol of abortion. Recent evidence of Planned Parenthood selling organs from aborted fetuses have energized Republican condemnation. The government apparently provides around $500-million annually to support Planned Parenthood. Republicans are apparently saying this financial support must stop. Would defunding stop abortion? No, of course not. Abortions are legal and available from countless providers. The Supreme Court made abortions legal in a 1973 decision. So…the current crisis is only symbolic.
President Obama’s Viewpoint: Though his party holds only a minority in both Congressional houses, he’s the President, and loves to demonstrate his power. Defunding Planned Parenthood would change nothing. Besides, his administration would find a way to move the money to Planned Parenthood anyway. But if the President can publicly veto an expected bill, he and other Democrats can reprise the election rhetoric, charging Republicans with shutting down the government. And as an added bonus, they can call the whole thing a “War against women!” But as for the actual crisis…it’s only symbolic.
Bottom line is that both parties are making threats regarding shutting down the government.
We need to tell both sides to knock it off. The US has real problems to confront. We have an out-of-control national debt of $18-trillion. We have foreign policy disasters in Syria and Iraq. We have Russia and China challenging us for world leadership. We have the most brutal regime since 1944 burgeoning in the Middle East. We’ve had a year of racial tensions, violent demonstrations, fires and looting. And how have our leaders responded? With symbols and shutdown threats around Planned Parenthood. Don’t we deserve better?
My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX