The government shutdown is over. There are less than 384 hours to the next government shutdown. Nothing has changed, nothing was solved, nothing was advanced, nothing improved. Senators solved their own political problems — no one solved the real problems of real Americans.
The government shutdown was first and foremost about congressional dysfunction, and both parties are to blame. By forcing a shutdown, Senate Democrats secured what is already supposed to be every senator’s right — the opportunity to have an open process in which legislation is considered, debated, amended and voted upon. That the Democrats felt they had to make this move is indicative of where things are in a body that was designed to deliberate. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., didn’t begin this dysfunction. He has continued this dysfunction — and exacerbated it — with a “politics first, last and always” approach.
Over the weekend, if you were bored enough to watch C-SPAN, you might have thought you had entered a topsy-turvy world. Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., delivered multiple speeches that sounded like conservative senators promoting regular order, budgets, real debate, ending backrooms deals and never abdicating Senate authority to the executive or judicial branches. Meanwhile, McConnell sounded like a liberal Democrat — when they were in the majority — citing the critical need to pass a continuing resolution because the opposition wanted to shut down the government and hurt families, the military and veterans.
Note that no one on either side of the aisle had major disagreements about what was actually in the bill. This was all political theater and positioning for future fights. The Democrats wanted to better position themselves for an immigration debate, so Schumer was willing to shut down the government to drive their argument for DACA. Republicans wanted to better position themselves for the midterm elections by forcing red-state senators (in states President Trump won) to take hard votes — so McConnell was willing to engage in the shutdown standoff to deepen the wedge.
While all of this “shoe is on the other foot” activity was unfolding, the political parties and outside groups in Washington cranked up the fundraising machinery to capitalize on the fear and anger of the American people. Democrats sent out fundraising emails declaring that if the continuing resolution passed, grandma was going off the cliff, innocent children would be immediately deported and President Trump and his rich friends would ruin the country forever. (To prevent that tragedy, please send $50). The Republicans sent out a similar request excoriating Democrats’ evil motives to undermine the president and lead the nation to socialism. (To prevent that tragedy, please send $100). Democrats and Republicans both belong to the green party (as in the color of money) on this one.
This entire shutdown showdown could have been prevented had the Senate simply taken up the 13 individual budget appropriations bills passed by the House of Representatives as required by the Constitution. The House did its job back in September, yet the bills are still sitting on McConnell’s desk gathering dust. He should immediately bring each to the floor of the Senate for debate, amendment and a final vote. Problem solved. No more uncertainty or shutdown talk.
Running a government by continuing resolutions keeps all of the power in the hands of the leadership of the respective political parties, rather than in the hands of senators duly elected by the citizens of each state.
The question American citizens should ask as they watch this insanity play out at their expense is: “Cui bono?” Who benefits? Who has the most to gain from this sorry excuse for governing? The answer, of course, is politicians, political parties, lobbyists and insider elites.
As long as Congress convinces us that we are too divided as a nation to deal with such issues, it gives senators and representatives from both parties the excuse to do nothing — and perpetually profit from the dysfunction.
Over the remaining 383 hours and 50 minutes, we should begin a conversation about how the world’s greatest deliberative body should actually, and regularly, deliberate. We can discuss the role of the filibuster, regular order, budgets, spending, Congress reclaiming its authority to legislate, and much more. The Founders designed the system to be difficult and demanding — worthy of the best effort of America’s best and brightest. That is exactly what we should expect and demand as citizens.
Boyd C. Matheson is the opinion editor of the Deseret News.