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Looking Into the Abyss
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The Republicans shut down the government and came within one day of defaulting on America’s debts. At first glance it appears that they did not gain anything for these endeavours, but are they actually one step closer to their final goal?
Much like Bush’s evolving justifications for invading Iraq, the Republican party’s reasoning for shutting down the government seemed to change with the circumstances. The crusade started with Ted Cruz’s faux filibuster where he imagined that “300 million Americans” were calling on the government to be shut down in “opposition to Obamacare.” (1) Somewhere in the middle of the impasse the fight became about ensuring that Republicans were “not going to be disrespected.” (2) As the manufactured crisis reached its conclusion, Senator Marco Rubio had pivoted to the debt stating that “this debate has never been about whether to have an open federal government, but about whether we are going to fix it so that it stops spending more money than it takes in.” (3)

In the end none of these goals were accomplished. Not only was Obamacare not repealed, defunded or delayed, it survived the battle without a single change. As the fight wore on, the public’s respect for the party suffered as its favorability rating fell to 28%, “the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992.” (4) In negotiations with Boehner, Reid did agree to a funding level that “was $70 billion dollars below what the Senate wanted.” (5) However, this deal was reached in July before the shutdown “took $24 billion out of the U. S. economy, and reduced projected fourth-quarter GDP growth from 3 percent to 2.4 percent.” (6) Purposely sabotaging the economy does not seem to be the best strategy for reducing our debt.

Even with goals that were increasingly unfocused, rapidly dropping poll numbers, increasing party turmoil and a default of government obligations on the immediate horizon, 18 members of the Senate and 144 Republicans in the House voted against reopening the government. Could it be that these members of Congress saw edging closer to the abyss as a way to finally drown the government in a bathtub? Liberals may have jumped too quickly to tie the presence of a Confederate flag at a TEA party rally to its followers’ racial attitudes. (7) Perhaps the greater concern should be that these are traitors who are seeking to break apart the Union.

The greatest weapon that can be used against a democracy is apathy. Convince the electorate that the government is ineffective and that their vote will do little to change that fact and they will stay home on election day. The first has clearly been accomplished as the government lurches from one manufactured crisis to another. It does not seem to matter to the American people that Obama and the Democrats substantially compromised on such issues as the stimulus program, health care reform and the size of the budget and that Republicans refused to support anything less than a total acquiescence to their viewpoint. Their resulting temper tantrums fuel a view that government is failing. The number of people who responded that they “approve...of the way Congress is handling its job” fell below the margin of error in a recent Associated Press poll. (8) It is statistically possible that there is not a single person in the country approves of this Congress. The bathtub has been filled with water.

Not only do the approval ratings for Congress reflect a new low in recent history, the body’s approval numbers have trailed it’s disapproval numbers for the entire time that Obama has been in office. Even with these abysmal numbers, “in nearly every election, over 90 percent of the members of Congress...are re-elected.” (9) This disconnect goes a long way in explaining why the number of eligible Americans who turn out to vote is “substantially lower than in almost all established democracies.” (10)

A lazy electorate who pulls the lever for the name that they know instead of researching the issues does partially explain why incumbents fare so well in our election system. However, a lack of limits on campaign financing and the use of gerrymandering cannot be ignored. “House members, on average, each raised $1,689,580...during the 2012 (election) cycle.”(11) In the same cycle “the average price of winning or holding on to a six-year term in the U. S. Senate averaged $10,476,45.” (12) A map of two Congressional districts represented by the opposing parties shows that boundaries are drawn without regard to geometric shapes, major roads or natural landmarks. (13) Changes in population and the resulting reapportionment require that redistricting occur every ten years, but it should be illegal for those who perform this task to have access to the voter rolls.

If the attempts to kill the government from the inside fail, the fallback position seems to be to destroy our credit rating. The party that denies the findings of climate experts now has elements who would also ignore economists. They focused on the fact that daily receipts would provide “enough money to make interest payments,” ignoring all of the government’s other obligations that have already been approved by the Congress. (14) In the past Standard and Poor’s has downgraded our credit rating in part to a “view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges.” (15) An actual default only would have increased this perception and further jeopardized our rating. This would increase our borrowing costs and further increase the deficit, running counter to the stated goal of reducing the deficit.

While we managed to avoid descending into the abyss on this latest manufactured crisis, we need to do something to end these cycles. Otherwise, eventually we will not pull out in time and will find ourselves dealing with some unintended consequences. The agreement only put off the next crisis for a couple of months and Ted Cruz is not promising to avoid the same tactics for the next go around. The American people must resist the temptation to disengage and force Cruz and his ilk to change their minds. The future of the country is depending on it.
1) http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2013/09/25/transcript-sen-ted-cruzs-filibuster-against-obamacare/
2) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/03/marlin-stutzman-government-shutdown_n_4034123.html
3) http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2013/10/sen-marco-rubio-sen-bill-nelson-split-on-wednesdays-final-senate-vote-on-debt-ceiling-.html
4) http://www.gallup.com/poll/165317/republican-party-favorability-sinks-record-low.aspx
5) http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/10/09/1245519/-Jon-Stewart-blasts-GOP-for-shutdown-blame-game-must-see-Jason-Jones-piece
6) http://swampland.time.com/2013/10/17/heres-what-the-government-shutdown-cost-the-economy/
7) http://goo.gl/DYmUE5
8) http://surveys.ap.org/data/GfK/AP-GfK%20October%202013%20Poll%20Topline%20Final_POLITICS.pdf
9) http://classroom.synonym.com/levels-incumbency-congress-5229.html
10) http://www.fairvote.org/voter-turnout#.UmNekXCsjLQ
11) http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130313/02101422307/how-much-does-it-cost-to-win-election-to-congress.shtml
12) http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cost-u-s-senate-seat-10-5-million-article-1.1285491
13) http://www.house.gov/htbin/findrep?ZIP=91326
14) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/09/us/politics/many-in-gop-offer-theory-default-wouldnt-be-that-bad.html
15) http://www.standardandpoors.com/ratings/articles/en/us/?assetID=1245316529563

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