As the end of the long, dreary work week inches closer day-by-day, so too does the looming threat of a government shutdown. And while some pundits and politicos might think the likelihood of ceasing government operations for an uncertain, though, extended, period is akin to that of me paying my student loans on time, it’s still very much a distinct possibility.
Whatever the complexities or perplexities plaguing our constitutional republic may be, the only thing that seems certain is that someone, or a legislative body of someones, is responsible. While that’s not to say a series of events, schmoozing, and governmental resolutions didn’t contribute to the forthcoming shutdown — everything happens for a reason. But behind every reason, there is a catalyst. And behind every catalyst is a creepy, cackling man in a tuxedo with tails, twirling his handle bar mustache as he ties a damsel in distress haphazardly to a railroad track.
Kidding. Sort of.
But there must be something to ignite a catalyst; I’m just trying to figure out who it is: President Barack Obama? Speaker of the House John Boehner? Senator and nonsensical rambling aficionado Ted Cruz? The respective Democrat and Republican political parties? The 1 percent? The 47 percent? The 99 percent?
Someone or something must be held accountable. But the answer may not be as easy to come by as it is to point the finger.
A case for President Obama (Democrats)
President Obama has certainly been called a lot of things throughout his tenure as our fair nation’s Commander in Chief, but a slick negotiator, or alluring legislator isn’t one of them. Sure he might be a charismatic orator, or wholeheartedly empathize with the plight of the common man, but a bridge builder between polarizing political parties he is not.
According to The New York Times, “Mr. Obama is seen by half of Americans as trying to get things done with the Republicans. But that is down from 6 in 10 who said the same thing in January 2012 and three-quarters who said he would work with Republicans in 2010 and 2011.”
With that duly noted, Senator Reid made it abundantly clear today that Democrats will not budge on their budget negotiations to have Obamacare defunded. “If the House decides over the weekend come Friday, Saturday whatever it is, that they’re going to give us a new bill to consider in the Senate: That is a concession on their part that we are going to shut down the government,” further noted Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.
And despite the fact that Reid is the Senate Majority Leader and Durbin the Senate Majority Whip, President Obama still sits atop the Democrat hierarchy.
The President, while not almighty or absolute as our executive — having his powers checked and balanced per the Constitution — is still the most powerful member of government. His inability to broker resolutions trans-party trickles down through the ranks of authority until ineffectiveness is status quo.
To really understand the the reasoning behind President Obama being held accountable, we need to focus our contextual lenses on the 1995 and 1996 government shutdowns. During Bill Clinton’s administration, government shutdowns occurred when, similarly, then-President and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was unable to decide upon a budget to keep the government funded and operational. During this period, President Clinton’s approval rating fell dramatically and for one of the few times — sex scandal aside –President Clinton was near-universally disliked by the American public.
The founding of our country and the cornerstone of our government has always been, quite simply, that power lies with the people. That being said, when the American people hold you responsible, you’re responsible. Though the NYT’s poll isn’t all-encompassing, it still sheds insight on a notion that likely sprawls a little further beyond the constraints of a small census.
A case for Speaker Boehner (Republicans)
As poorly of a picture The New York Times‘s poll paints of the Democratic party, it bodes even worse for Republicans. The poll cites:
“Americans see Republicans as somewhat more inflexible in the debate: just 1 in 4 say that Republicans in Congress are working with Mr. Obama. In the poll, Republicans themselves are divided as to whether their party is making efforts to work with the president. Nearly half of them say that Congressional Republicans are not working with Mr. Obama, and about 4 in 10 say they are.”
And that’s not the only poll with findings on par that Republicans are to be held most accountable. A similar, and recent, poll by Pew Research Center shows 68% of Americans disapprove of congressional Republicans, with 8% undecided.
The Huffington Post recorded just today that the Speaker and the House he wields will refuse “to pass a ‘clean’ spending bill to keep Uncle Sam in business next week when the bank account runs dry.” Such a bill would act as a temporary stopgap until more permanent and effective measures are taken.
“I do not see that happening,” Boehner told reporters on Capitol Hill after meeting with Republican legislators referring, of course, to any course of action that would pump even the smallest iota of a fraction of a penny into Obamacare in the name of compromise on a balanced budget. In other words, behind Boehner’s tearful sensibilities is a stubborn perseverance one might encounter in trying to convince Steve Jobs that he didn’t invent the entire smartphone market, let alone the device.
Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times sums it up best:
“House Republicans, by demanding that Obamacare be defunded and dismantled, have demanded something that’s anathema to most Democrats — and, importantly, something they have no hope of getting through the Senate. The result of that demand will likely be a government shutdown that didn’t need to happen — and a needless prolonging of the fiscal logjam.”
So who’s really to blame here, then? Is it President Barack “can’t close a deal” Obama or is it the other side, the one unwilling to compromise, the one where the only middle-ground is for no middle-ground at all? The Speaker of the House’s job is to parlay the sentiments of the House to the Senate and then the to President by drafting and passing laws, not by holding all those affected directly by a government shutdown ransom.
A case for all of Congress
Let’s not forget a July poll by the Public Policy Polling. According to it, Congress is less popular, and therefore met with more disapproval, than “root canals, NFL replacement referees, head lice, the rock band Nickelback, colonoscopies, carnies, traffic jams, cockroaches, Donald Trump, France, Genghis Khan, used-car salesmen and Brussel sprouts.”
In that regard, all of Congress may be to blame for a government shutdown.
It’s nearly impossible to pin the blame for a government shutdown on a sole perpetrator, but rather an ensemble that put into motion the events we’re faced with on the not-so-distant horizon. Are individuals at fault? Absolutely. Political people are often just those self-serving and disillusionsed enough to think they’re able to make a positive impact on the American populous because of their thoughts and actions. You know I’m looking at you, Ted Cruz.
For those with an opinion on the matter, feel free to respectfully leave your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below.