The headlines heralded the event as if something substantive had actually been accomplished. The Washington Post trumpeted, "Shutdown to End." The New York Times announced, "Congress Passes Debt Deal." But what was really achieved and at what cost? The impasse over a budget, raising the debt limit and the continuing battle over the implementation of Obama care, a law already passed by Congress, caused a shut down of the federal government for 16 days.
So, the government has officially reopened for business and the specter of the U.S. defaulting on its obligations is over, for now. This political stalemate came with a staggering cost. According to the financial ratings agency Standard & Poor's, the shutdown took at least $24 billion out of the United States economy and prompted the agency to cut it's forecast of gross domestic product in the fourth quarter to a lackluster 2 percent. That is not money that can be recouped. It is simply gone, and with it goes part of our good reputation around the world. This wound to the our economy and to the image of the United States was, sadly and plainly, self-inflicted. While the patient may be out of intensive care, the prognosis is guarded, at best. Because all Congress really achieved here was deferring the debate until early next year. That gives each side enough time to lick their wounds and regroup for what is already anticipated to be the continuation of the very same contentious struggle.
There is still no workable bipartisan framework in place to cut spending. All Congress succeeded in doing was delaying the inevitable, There appear to be far more losers than winners in this game of political brinkmanship. A poll conducted last week by the Associated Press-GfK, found that just 5 percent of the public approves of the job being done by senators and representatives, while 83 percent disapprove. Imagine getting that kind of performance review at your job. You'd be fired.
Not to mention the growing divide within the Republican party. Roughly 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln addressed his fellow Republicans at the Illinois State Convention when he was running for U.S. Senate. He told them, "A house divided cannot stand." While he was addressing the country as a whole and it's split over the issue of slavery, Republicans today would do well to heed those same words as this latest Congressional battle has done much to divide the party. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said, "We fought the good fight. We just didn't win." Senator John McCain of Arizona described the past few weeks an "agonizing odyssey....This has been one of the most shameful chapters I've seen here." But Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz fought to the bitter end. "This is a terrible deal," Cruz defiantly announced before the vote to reopen the government passed the Senate with bipartisan support. Senator Cruz should read the lyrics to Kenny Rogers' The Gambler. "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." Cruz was holding a bad hand from the start and he achieved nothing more than further fracturing a party already divided.
As to the bigger picture, we can all take little solace in knowing our national system of checks and balances works when our nation cannot balance it's own checkbook. All Congress really did was play a dangerous and costly game of Kick the Can. Maybe it's time to kick these politicians in their collective cans and demand them to stop political posturing, accept responsibility and take action
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