Copyright © 2013 by Ralph Couey
Like many of my fellow federal employees, I viewed the October 1st shutdown with a mixture of eye-rolling exasperation and quiet concern. Unlike others, however, I still have to go to work, albeit sans paycheck. But as of today, 12 days in, with no solution is sight, concern has turned to worry.
America is deeply divided. In fact, that only view we all hold in common is a shared resentment for those in DC whose responsibility it is to solve problems like this (and who are still getting paid, by the way) before they become catastrophes.
The word "shutdown" is actually less descriptive of the current situation. Those of us who are considered emergency essential, whose jobs involve the security of the nation, are still going to work. Remember the pursuit and gunfire involving that woman who tried to drive onto White House grounds? The cops who pursued her were (and still are) doing what is essentially volunteer work. Most federal employees remain at home, filling the hours with long-delayed household projects. Bills have already been passed ensuring that we will receive our backpay when this thing is settled. In the meantime, we will sharply curtail household expenditures and dread that day when we are forced to dip into that emergency fund that every prudent fed has carefully nurtured.
So here we sit, the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the history of this planet rendered impotent by the poison of dueling extremism.
While disturbing and disruptive, the shutdown is not as serious as the debt crisis. If we the people haven't taken notice, the Chinese government, who own about a trillion and a half of our debt, are taking notice. Last week, they issued a strongly-worded statement warning American that Chinese financial interests are at risk. Within those words, many heard a thinly-veiled threat.
Blame. Everyone wants to sling it; nobody wants to receive it. Folks on the left blame the right; folks on the right blame the left. But blame, however it is generously spread, has never solved a problem, never crafted a solution. Solutions do not exist on either the right or the left, but in that common ground in the middle, the no-man's land called compromise. Historically, compromise has been the great healer. Inherent in that art is the principal that both sides must concede important things before peace can be restored. For too many, compromise means "my way or the highway." Pride and reputation erects walls between what is and what is possible. But if those two sins can be set aside for a time, this thing, and the looming debt crisis, can be solved.
(Incidentally, as any head of household knows, if you have to borrow money to pay your bills, you have locked you family into an economic death spiral.)
For this crisis to be concluded, both sides must make concessions.
For the Republicans, they must acknowledge that the Affordable Care Act, AKA ObamaCare, is now law. You debated the issue through the campaign, and through the legislative process. You failed to claim the national narrative. In simpler terms, you lost. It makes no sense to continue to block a law that has passed muster with the Supreme Court. If you still feel that the ACA is a disaster waiting to happen, it makes more sense to let events play out. Your fallback position becomes a fatalistic shrug and the words, "Well, we tried to warn you, but you didn't want to listen."
For the Democrats, they must face the fact that the ACA is, as they say, "not ready for prime time." The sign-up process has been a disaster. Reporters have made multiple bales of hay in live reporting documenting the incompetence of the software. Instead of tapping established programs that work just fine for the insurance industry, the administration ran to a Canadian firm to reinvent the wheel. IT experts across the country continue to remark about what a joke this software is. As one remarked, "It appears to have been written by someone who has absolutely no experience or knowledge in database applications." If the signup is this bad, then full implementation is likely to be a full-scale psychotic episode. And don't forget, if the program keeps you from signing up, the kindly and charitable folks at the IRS will be there to enforce your participation. Naturally one expects minor glitches, especially with a program so vast, sweeping, and life-changing as this one. But the problems that have erupted are not glitches, but symptomatic of a deeper, more critical problem buried within the entire system.
So here is my compromise.
Republican house members will pass a "clean" bill to fund the government. Democrats will agree to a one-year delay in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. During that time, qualified experts will peel down the system, line of code by line of code, fix the problems, and then test the system under the expected load conditions. House Republicans will agree to raise the debt limit. Democrats will agree to subsequent serious, and real, reductions in spending so that over time, this government can run on a cash basis instead of a debt position.
This is a workable solution for both sides. Everybody gets a piece of what they want, while at the same time making real concessions. Citizens will accept these actions as a sign that politicians can place the welfare of the country above partisan passions.
Or...they can continue along the current path. But that way leads to a dark end, where the survivors stand in the presence of the smoking ruin of that "shining city on a hill" and realize that the parties responsible for the destruction of our country were, in fact, ourselves.