Holding the government hostage

In September, the GOP threatened yet another government shutdown, this time over funding for Planned Parenthood — and we’ve all seen and heard the arguments over why this is ridiculous, so I’m not going to go into them here, because my interest is less with Planned Parenthood (which, like other social and public services, should obviously receive funding) and more with the shutdown as political blunt instrument. We’ve seen more and more in recent years, whether carried out (2013, $24 billion) or threatened (basically every legislative session at this point). Like toddlers, GOP lawmakers scream that if they don’t get their way, they’re going to draw the whole country down with them, and bizarrely, this is accepted, versus a reasonable parent who would lead a fussing toddler out of the room.

As we know, the GOP is a party that prides itself on promoting less, rather than more, government intervention. Thus, its opposition to entitlement programmes is logically consistent with the party’s stated platform — and many shutdowns and threats have specifically focused on funding for entitlement programmes, including Obamacare as well as Planned Parenthood. It’s interesting to observe that the GOP is particularly irritated with programs that provide health care and seems to be willing to pick that hill to die on in particular.

Of course, the GOP delights in government intervention when it serves their best interests, making it a party of raging hypocrites. (Not, to be fair, to suggest that the DNC is any better.) Shutdowns are about political grandstanding, not about remaining consistent with party values and promoting the America that constituents elected them to represent. (Well, in cases where the election was free and fair, which is definitely up for debate in some Republican precincts thanks to voter suppression and outright fraud — let us not forget that voting machines remain consistently vulnerable to gaming, and that many of the firms involved are conservative and Republican-owned, so the people benefiting most certainly are not Democrats. Er, not that anyone should benefit from election fraud.)

When Republicans sense that something isn’t going to happen the way they want it to, they bring out the shutdown as a threat, insisting that they have the power to hold up or refuse a budget until it’s adjusted to their satisfaction. Oftentimes, they do, or at least have the ability to delay approval long enough to be a considerable nuisance — and to make people more likely to capitulate just to get the government running with assurance that it will continue to run. Shutdowns don’t just cost money while they’re happening. They’re also a considerable problem when they’re looming over the country, a shadow that discourages foreign investors and domestic businesses alike from doing business in the United States. Why, after all, work in a country where the ports may be randomly closed, customs frozen, inspectors powerless to review and clear perishable goods?

The GOP is so very committed to getting exactly what it wants and nothing else that it thinks it is completely and entirely reasonable to threaten the economic and social welfare of an entire nation — against the wishes of many of its own constituents — to make some sort of political point. It’s absurd, it’s dangerous, and it needs to stop. Many Republicans have begun expressing irritation with the practice, and that includes people in Congress who are growing weary both of the endless machinations of shutdowns and threats of same, and with the inevitable public outrage every time their party attempts to pressure the country with economic threats.

Screaming and wailing until people cave to you just to get you to shut up is not a grown up activity. I would argue that the only people who should fuss until they get what they want are babies, because they have no other way of communicating and adults are not always on top of it when it comes to things like ‘is the baby hungry’ and ‘does the baby need changing.’ To be honest, once you are capable of verbalising, your free license to fuss is immediately revoked. Use your words. Deal when you don’t get what you want or when you are required to negotiate. Sometimes life is unfair. That may mean that you don’t get the toy you wanted for Christmas or that you have to stay home because you’re not feeling well or that you have to fund a programme that provides low-cost reproductive health services to millions of patients. These are things we should all be learning from an early age.

The GOP is incredibly ill-behaved, irresponsible, immature, and frankly dangerous. We cannot live with the constant risk of a shutdown that puts the entire nation into freefall. This practice should not continue to be tolerated, because as long as it does, no one can govern effectively, not with the everpresent awareness that if Congress does not get precisely what it wants at all times, it will bring the country to a grinding halt. Yes, Congress has considerable public power, and that includes the ability to review, allocate, and approve the budget — a move designed to ensure that the president doesn’t exercise undue power (I wouldn’t want the White House making the sole call on the budget, personally). But that power also needs better checks and balances, even if it requires a constitutional amendment to ensure that the president can step in to mandate that Congress pass a goddamn budget or go sit in the corner and feel bad about its actions while the adults get things done. Perhaps the best way to do this is to extend funding at its current level until ‘shutdowns’ are resolved, rather than cutting off all funding until the budget is approved, but no matter how we work it out, this is ridiculous, and its a national embarassment.

Image: American Flag, Timo Kohlenberg, Flickr