Congress Kicks The Can Down The Road

The can, which includes the federal government’s bills and budget, has been officially kicked down the road. In the early hours of Thursday, Oct. 17, President Barack Obama signed a bill that ended the 16-day partial government shutdown and raised the debt ceiling shortly after Congress finally agreed to pass it, which brought an end to days of bitter, and frankly embarrassing, political fighting among lawmakers down the road in Washington, D.C. The end of the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis allowed the innocent victims and political pawns of this fight — federal employees who were unable to work after being deemed non-essential or furloughed — to return to their jobs. The shutdown began on Oct. 1, in large part due to the unwavering desire of a select group of Republicans to defund the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, at all costs. However, this man-made crisis, which plagued our country for much of the month of October, is far from being resolved completely, and in just a few months we may be facing it once again.

The bill that was passed into law and signed by the president on Oct. 17 can be characterized, at best, as a temporary bandage. It doesn’t provide any permanent solutions, nonetheless address any pressing and complex issues that divide lawmakers such as a long-term budget, entitlements or tax reform. The bill only authorizes for current spending levels to continue through Jan. 15, 2014 and the debt ceiling, which allows the government to pay its bills and obligations, to be raised through Feb. 7, 2014. Simply put, if our lawmakers in Washington do not negotiate a budget and a solution to the debt ceiling by then, the federal government will possibly close and be unable to make payments on money it owes. After the deal was reached earlier this month, President Obama held a briefing and stated that politicians need to “get out of the habit of governing by crisis” and “hopefully, next time, it will not be in the eleventh hour.” As he walked off the podium in the White House Briefing Room, a reporter asked if there would be a similar crisis in a few months and the president simply responded, “No.”

I find that quite hard to believe based on the recent actions of Congress. Possibly and hopefully, lawmakers will reach a more permanent agreement on a bill that provides a budget and a solution to the debt ceiling before time runs out in early 2014. However, a couple months are not going to heal the deep divisions between Republicans and Democrats. The Republicans received much of the blame for the most recent crisis, but I would argue both sides have a lot to prove. They have continuously talked past each other and staged nothing but political theater to get their way. In the meantime, all Americans are affected in countless ways due to the childish behavior, and some even face the possibility of being unable to work. This dysfunction among our lawmakers has left the greatest country on Earth looking like anything but that to the rest of the world. The disagreement in Washington is utterly embarrassing, and as a result, our influence over nations will continue to decline. How can we portray American values and instruct others on what to do if our lawmakers are unable to even fund the government and pay our bills?

It is critical that President Obama becomes more involved and more active in preventing another government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis in early 2014. He must become a leading voice in promoting unity among the parties, and it is important that he play a prominent role in negotiating not on behalf of Democrats, but on the behalf of every American. The 16-day crisis in October frightened investors, heightened interest rates, put thousands out of work and cost the American economy $24 billion, according to Standard & Poor’s. However, if it happens again and no agreement materializes, the outcome will be much worse.