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In our opinion: Climax in Washington this week shouldn’t overshadow the hard tasks at hand

SHARE In our opinion: Climax in Washington this week shouldn’t overshadow the hard tasks at hand
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Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, left, are sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump’s efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.

AP

This week promises to be a something of a climax in the saga of Washington governance: Impeachment hearings rage on as Democratic presidential candidates jockey for air time during a Wednesday night debate held on the eve of the day the federal government runs out of funding.

It ought to be an opportunity for Americans to hold lawmakers to account, find truth in confusion and ask hard questions about the spending habits in the nation’s capital. Sadly, if experience is any guide, it won’t do any of those things. Here are a few items we expect from Washington this week:

Impeachment hearings

The House Intelligence Committee is ramping up its efforts in the impeachment inquiry, calling eight witnesses across three days. We expect each to be treated with dignity while being questioned, which means lawmakers from both parties should be more concerned with fact-finding than political posturing. Questioning with the aim of grabbing social media soundbites or sending email blasts with out-of-context quotes doesn’t constitute a “hearing.” Such decorum should also apply to the president, who caused a stir last week by tweeting about a witness and her job performance during her testimony.

Democratic debate

Presidential hopefuls will have plenty to debate since they last met in October: Sen. Elizabeth Warren released details of her Medicare for All plan, impeachment proceedings went public, underdog Mayor Pete Buttigieg has surged in several polls, a few contenders have entered or are considering entering the race and one more has pulled out. 

With all that fodder, the moderators could easily overlook hard questions Americans ought to hear: 

  • The national debt now tops $23 trillion. How would you ensure that sum doesn’t cripple the rising generation and the future U.S. economy?
  • Do you support balancing the federal budget? Why or why not?
  • As commander in chief, could you define America’s military strategy abroad? Would you support stabilizing the Syrian region after the recent pull out of American troops?
  • A recent high school shooting in California left three students dead. Do you have the leadership ability to draw bipartisan consensus on issues regarding public safety?
  • An opioid crisis continues to claim the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each year. How would you aid affected areas, and what actions would you take to combat the illicit drug trade?

Government shutdown

After months of inaction, Congress once again failed to make the deadline of passing its appropriations bills to set the federal budget. The House voted on Tuesday to pass a continuing resolution that would fund federal operations through Dec. 20. The Senate will follow suit.

Americans deserve to hear from their congressional leaders and know why Congress, which holds the “power of the purse,” perpetually fails one of its most basic duties. If the stalemate truly lies with concerns over funding a wall along the southern border, lawmakers should quickly seek a compromise rather than allowing it to wedge apart the nation and postpone inevitable spending votes.

In all the clamor this week, we wonder if those in Washington took time to ponder Tuesday’s anniversary of the Gettysburg address, a stirring eulogy urging a war-torn nation to be “dedicated to the great task remaining before us.” It’s a reminder this week that, despite divisions, this country can yet secure a vibrant future if it only engages in the hard work set before it.