The government shutdown, which is now in its second week, is an outrage. And the continued dysfunctionality of the legislative branch of our federal government is an embarrassment. With accusations, threats and sound bites being exchanged by frustrated leadership on both sides, one sometimes loses focus on the real culprits in this sad story.
The truth is, we are being held hostage by some 40 Tea Party Republicans, whose allegiance to their ideology surpasses their interest in democracy or the public good. So, with their narrow focus on the evils of the Affordable Care Act and their commitment to stymy anything associated with President Barack Obama, the Tea Party faithful have forced what the local media has labeled a “shutdown breakdown.”
Government funding bills are not rocket science. And in the absence of a manufactured crisis, a “clean bill” would have sailed through Congress this year, as it does almost every year. Thus, while politicians may have legitimate differences of opinion on programs, focus and the proper functioning of government, all used to agree that it was best to argue about those things while the government was actually still operating. Not so for the Tea Party faithful. They saw an opportunity for making another grand statement and grabbed it. And in the process they have caused more hardship, displacement and waste than even they likely imagined.
Our Jewish community has made the best of the situation by offering financial help for those who need it and by opening synagogue doors and school study halls for those affected to gather socially or to use the extra time for Torah study. While these responses are constructive, they should not lull us into forgetting how nearly unprecedented the situation is. In very simple terms — the shutdown is a mess.
Next up is the Oct. 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling. Will this piece of routine business be turned into another manufactured crisis? In addition to hurting or inconveniencing roughly 320 million Americans, the Tea Party minority is forcing attention and time away from the serious work the government should be doing.
It will be interesting to see what happens next. Some see a revolt brewing within Republican ranks against the Tea Party. That would be a good thing — for Democrats and Republicans alike. The two parties need to be able to do business with one another and to work through issues with good faith, compassion and reasonableness. That’s never been more clear than today.