By Joe Sweeney
Two weeks into the so-called government shutdown—which by some accounts actually amounts to a 17 percent reduction in operations, with other 83 percent still functioning—it’s pretty clear that the goals of Congress and the White House are tailored to meet the needs of people inside the Washington Beltway. The rest of us? Apparently, we aren’t a priority. The main thing in D.C. is to fix blame, dig in your heels and see how many political points you can score off of the stalemate that comes from divided government. The remarkable thing about the intransigence exhibited by each side is how little we get for our money when the government is fully functioning. Exhibit A: a Web site for health-care insurance registration, three years and hundreds of millions of dollars in the making, that barely works.
So instead of focusing on some sort of real agreement during the current budget standoff, we have a president who drags his feet coming to a negotiating table with Republicans, GOP leadership that assails the balanced-budget wing of the party as out of touch, a Senate leader with an attitude of “it’s my way or … my way”—and millions of people denied basic governmental services that their tax dollars have already paid for.
From Web sites taken down—at greater cost than would be incurred to leave them on-line—to barriers put up in front of open-air monuments in Washington, to private businesses being forced to close because of they operate on federal property we see how far the administrative wing will go enforce the will of its chief executive.
The maddening part of it all is that each of the people at fault here can make the same claim to be operating only in the interests of his constituents. The president can argue that he was elected in a landslide, and has a mandate. The speaker of the House can argue that a strong GOP majority there means the nation as a whole endorses his party’s broad goals. The Senate president can do likewise.
So everybody involved is right. Of course. The only way anything will get done, it seems, is if all come to an agreement that what we really need is more taxing and more spending—before the bill is passed to the rest of us. Meanwhile, real people —American tax payers—are getting hurt.
Here at home, we have a staff member at Ingram’s, Venezuelan by birth, who was scheduled to receive her American citizenship, ironically on the same day as the looming debt default deadline. With publication of this issue approaching, it was questionable that would happen, despite her pride and years of preparation to become an American citizen. As a magazine that reports on business trends, we occasionally need to access data bases from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of Commerce, the census bureau and others, not just for reporting needs to serve our readership, but for various marketing and other strategic initiatives we explore. Those sources, including their websites now carry a “Closed Because of the Shutdown” banner on their home pages. So I’m more than a little bemused when a president or a member of Congress talks about how the needs of small business must remain a high priority here.
My father was a public official and the last elected Assessor in Jackson County, Missouri. He was a man with a reputation as someone who would stand up to the interests of politicians to do the right thing on behalf of those who elected him to office. After his election in 1968, the Committee for County Progress (CCP) Democratic leader Jim Nutter told him he couldn’t have a staff attorney in his office. Dad’s response? “You’ll have to talk to my attorney about that.” The attorney? The young budding Joe Mulvihill.
Dad took that view because he saw it as the right way to serve the people, irrespective of whether it made him a pariah within the local Democratic Party leadership. That’s a quality sadly missing in Washington today. Everyone there answers directly to the party leadership; nobody is focused on solutions that go beyond screwing the other guy.
I don’t think most American businessmen are out of line to say—again—that we’ll live with the rules, but just set them. We’ll work with the tax structure, but just define it. We’ll comply with the regulations, but just finish writing the darn things.
At that point, the power of American entrepreneurial excellence can be fully unleashed. And we’ve seen what it can do for economic growth when our government doesn’t impede its progress.
It’s time for elected officials, Congressmen/women in particular, in Washington to lead, follow or get out of the way. They don’t seem willing to lead. They don’t
appear able to follow anything but the narrow interests of their own parties. So I’m hoping that when the elections come in 13 months, the American people will help most get out of the way—and bring necessary “Change” back to Washington.