The chief characters in the shutdown and near debt-ceiling crisis narrative were President Obama, Ted Cruz, and the Tea Party caucus. Each ran elections as Washington outsiders who were striving to change the system, but couldn't deliver on their promises. Despite getting us into the shutdown, none of these politicians led us out. Instead longtime insiders like Senators Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid negotiated a deal while other insiders like Senators Susan Collins and John McCain provided contours for the solution.
The 80th Congress, Harry Truman's infamous "Do-Nothing Congress," passed 906 bills; our penultimate congress, the 112th, passed only 561. Our current congress, the 113th, is on track to pass barely half the laws the 112th did, making it one of the least productive congresses in history, both in the quantity and quality of laws passed. The 113th Congress is being stymied in large part by freshman "Washington Outsiders" who don't know how to run a government.
This isn't the first time that outsiders have led the government astray. The last shutdown came in 1995, the same year another irregularly high wave of "outsider" freshman congressmen were elected.
These hold-ups have serious consequences. Serious debates about immigration reform have been delayed. Spending cuts to the National Institutes of Health and Centers For Disease Control have impeded advancements in important medical technologies. Environmental issues and entitlement reform have been all but completely ignored in the gridlock. At the stunningly slow pace they've been passing laws Congress hasn't had the time to debate many of these issues.
Senator Ted Cruz, who ran as an outsider, has been a massive force in Congress' inefficiency and the delay of debates on these issues. Cruz used the excuse that he was doing what his constituents wanted when he helped provoked the shutdown. Hiding behind the veil of constituents' desires in the midst of a government crisis isn't leadership. It's passing off the difficult decisions to the public, who weren't elected to make and vote on legislation. The public elects people who are better equipped than themselves to make legislative decisions. Many members of the House also used Cruz's excuse. Having policy makers who shirk responsibility and leadership is less than ideal in trying times. The more experienced Texas Senator John Cornyn, who represents the same constituents as Cruz, hasn't used that excuse. Neither did many other so-called insiders. Instead, they stepped up to fix our government's problems in the way that we desperately needed them to.
Though he is the most visible example of Washington outsider ineptitude, Cruz is far from the worst. Ted Yoho, a Republican congressman from the third district in Florida, represents a far more impressive ignorance. In a quote from a Washington Post profile, Yoho said, "[Not raising the debt ceiling] would bring stability to the world markets," on the grounds that the world would know the U.S. had made an effort to stop increasing its debt.
Regardless of political affiliation, experts and politicians on both sides of the aisle have agreed this would be disastrous. This also goes against what the other major world markets have explicitly said and shown. China's Deputy Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao stated that the U.S. must "shoulder its responsibility" as the world's biggest economy and holder of the main reserve currency and "take concrete measures before Oct. 17 to avoid a default." South Korean markets fell amidst concerns over the U.S. debt ceiling.
Prior to serving as congressman, Yoho was a veterinarian with no political or economic experience. Much of Congress resembles Yoho, with 39 percent having served for fewer than three years. Many have never held office before and come from backgrounds in reindeer farming, real estate, TV reporting and other unrelated fields. Yoho is a troubling kind of Washington outsider: a headstrong representative who doesn't understand complex economic, political, and foreign-policy issues, and who sees compromise as admitting defeat. Those traits lead to an inefficient government incapable of passing beneficial policy. That's why we had a shutdown, temporarily and narrowly averted a debt crisis, and why congress has passed so few laws.
Yoho and the like have an understandable appeal. It is tempting to vote for the outsiders. They're relatable. Like most voters, they don't have experience in D.C. They run platforms on stopping the gridlock and fixing a broken system. However, in light of the extreme gridlock America just went through, it's safe to say that they've made the system much worse than it was before they were elected.
If there's anything we can learn from the 113th Congress, it's that we should be electing qualified professionals. As 2013 has shown us, politics isn't easy. In the same way that it would be inadvisable for a congressman with no background in medicine to take on Yoho's former job as a veterinarian, it would also be unwise for a man with only veterinary experience to make a dangerous jump into politics. Insiders like McConnell and Reid can't fix the entire system every time. A Congress made up of more experienced insiders can help ensure that they won't have to. That only happens when voters stop treating "insider" like a dirty word.