Nowadays, mindfulness is not in evidence in Washington. There's a lot of finger-pointing, name-calling and foot-stomping going on. No one knows when this nonsense will end. Both sides in any argument act in reactionary and emotional ways. It seems there is collateral damage in the dialogue between both parties.
Two unrelated pieces of legislation -- a federal funding bill and the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) -- have become tangled in a game of politics. In New Jersey alone, the state where my hometown is, the shutdown was expected to result in unpaid furloughs for close to 31,000 federal employees. Think about the number nationwide!
In New Jersey, since 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Transportation Security Administration and the National Parks Service have been shut down. In the courts, many civil cases are on hold indefinitely. Government databases with all the important records went dark. The weather is warm, as if we were in summer, yet unfortunately the national parks and national recreation areas are closed to hikers and bikers going for a ride. Thank God, the post offices are staying open. Amtrak is on duty. Yet, if the stalemate remains, the problem might get bigger. My neighbor Karen is afraid that a federal loan program for small businesses might be affected.
These days, employees of most federal agencies nationwide are at home without pay and don't know when they'll receive their next paycheck. According to a Washington Post article, "More than 2 million federal workers will see their paychecks delayed -- and 800,000 of them might never get repaid."
The whole world is watching the U.S. closely to understand how the U.S. government functions and makes policy. With the shutdown, it now seems that all the lights are off and nobody's home. It sends a very bad message and has various interpretations. For example, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan mentioned the U.S. government shutdown to draw attention to Turkey's strong economy. "We are now witnessing the crisis in the U.S. We have never been a government that could not pay its personnel," he said. However, the shutdown has basically nothing to do with the strength of the economy but everything to do with the weakness of U.S. politics. No matter what political party they are supporting, Americans call this awkwardness, this inability to reach a deal, a "failure of leadership."
For the gridlock over Obamacare, Republicans remain persistent that any bill funding government operations must also revoke or postpone Obamacare; Democrats are equally committed in their opposition. They think the shutdown is an unnecessary tragedy for the country because the health care law has already been passed by Congress, signed by the president and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court. The whole process is already done. On the other hand, Republicans blame Obama for refusing to negotiate.
It's hard to guess how long this shutdown will go on. It's ironic to see how politicians who make their careers out of campaigning and convincing people to vote for them cannot convince each other to settle down to negotiate. Instead of being negative and insulting the other side, keeping the days very long and dark for the nation, politicians should use their common sense and positive reinforcement to find common ground. Their first target should be keeping the government running effectively and efficiently.
Leaders must learn to value dissenting opinions, not eliminate them from negotiation. They cannot make everyone they interact with like themselves, but they are free and have to learn to be able to listen to and discuss others' perspectives for a productive negotiation.