The most recent federal government shutdown is over. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the dysfunction that led to it is very much alive and kicking in Washington, D.C.
The shutdown, which began early Saturday morning after members of Congress couldn’t agree on a compromise to keep the federal government open, ended when Senate Democrats backed off their hard-line stance.
Liberal activists and Republican senators are in agreement that Senate Democrats are the ones who blinked first, backing down from the demand that any compromise include protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States when they were young children. Instead, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed to a vague promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that the so-called “dreamers” issue, as well as other matters, will be handled in the coming weeks.
The agreement keeps the lights on until Feb. 8, when we could very well end up right back where we were over the weekend.
Welcome to the United States of Shutdown, a place no reasonable person would want to visit.
It seems like playing politics with a shutdown (or a threatened shutdown) is one of the rare instances of bipartisan agreement among Republicans and Democrats in Washington. The writing of budgets, wrestling over thorny issues and compromising over policy in a timely fashion is tossed out the window. Just drag your feet, the conventional wisdom seems to be, and you can play winner-take-all-hardball to make your dreams come true.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The White House and Republican and Democratic leaders from Congress could hammer out big issues without shutting down the government. In fact, budgets — a major template for the political class to set priorities — already have a deadline, Oct. 1, the first day of the federal government’s fiscal year.
We don’t wish to suggest that before shutdown politics came into vogue that senators, representatives and presidents were perfect at passing important legislation for the good of the country. They weren’t. However, those politicians managed to pass budgets and important laws without closing federal offices, sending workers home and unsettling U.S. citizens and the rest of the world.
That’s what these little shutdown mini-dramas really represent. Politicians — a class of people with generally low approval ratings among Americans — each year have an opportunity to show the world that they have their act together. Sure, the country is divided by issues such as spending, immigration, military policy and so on, but there is still room for compromise, still a way to demonstrate that the U.S. government isn’t a dysfunctional mess. Yet, once more this month Washington has lived down to its bad reputation.
To repeat ourselves from 2015. We guess political strategists must see some advantage to these shutdown dramatics. We also suppose they don’t care about the damage these antics do to our nation’s reputation.