The United States might not make the 2014 list of Failed States, but it might as well try if Congress and the president don’t stop playing a game of chicken with the country’s future. The current partial shutdown of the U.S. government is an unfathomable concept even for citizens of failed states. It is true that governments in those failed countries are incompetent, but most are facing staggering odds should they act on behalf of their citizens. This is not the case for American politicians; at the time of the government shutdown some two weeks ago, the country was in a healthy state and was getting stronger.
There are many ways to observe the fallout of a government shutdown. An increased number of people are in coffee shops spending the day sipping on drinks and reading the news because they have been furloughed. In fact, around 800,000 government workers have been forced to take an unpaid leave of absence or to work without pay during this time. Coffee shops become a haven for many as national parks are off limits. If you should drive down 17th street between the Washington Monument and the Abraham Lincoln Memorial, for instance, you will find metal barricades fending off tourists and locals from walking onto the different national sights.
Pandering to the extremist voices within one’s own party and engaging in a do or die game strikes an eerie similarity to new democracies grappling with the golden rule of democracy: compromiseWalid Jawad
But that pales in comparison to more serious government functions, such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that should have been investigating a Washington DC Metro Rail accident where a worker was killed over the weekend in what was reported to be routine maintenance work. We will have to accept the Metro system’s own conclusions, which will be arrived after an investigation conducted without the NTSB’s oversight. This is the same dilemma for many other services connected with different government agencies. The spillover extends to services used by people located overseas, such as “digital” services. Visitors to NASA’s website will read the following message: “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available.” I guess stargazers will have to look up at the sky for now.
The staring contest in Congress between the two parties, the Republicans and Democrats, was so compelling to the leaders of both sides that they lost sight of their responsibilities toward the American people. No side wants to show their perceived weakness if they compromise. The blame is not equally distributed though. The Republican Party had their chance a couple of years ago to oppose the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act they dubbed as “Obama Care,” when it was debated in Congress. Believe it or not, American’s are not provided public health care. Some 40 million Americans are uninsured while those who are pay high premiums for the privilege of fighting insurance companies to receive the health services they signed up for. In the end, the Democratic Party, the president’s party, won the day and got the bill passed and signed into law. The program, which goes into affect on January 1, is designed to lower the cost of health care and guarantee medical insurance to all Americans. The Republican Party decided to use the power of the purse; i.e. the appropriation bill to fund the government, to prevent Obama Care from taking effect.
Congress learns from new Middle Eastern democracies
A small group of Republican “Tea Party” members have been emboldened by an over represented, very vocal, electorate that demands less government spending. The Republican majority leadership in the House of Representatives acquiesced to this unyielding minority leading to the current shutdown. Perhaps its understandable as part of political posturing as the Republican Party jockey for a favorable position in their bid to win major U.S. elections, specifically the presidential race of 2016. But, the more hardline positions they take, the worse their chances become.
Pandering to the extremist voices within one’s own party and engaging in a do or die game strikes an eerie similarity to new democracies grappling with the golden rule of democracy: compromise. In Iraq, as in and Lebanon and Libya for instance, political challengers are eliminated in the most extreme way; forcefully. In other places, such as Egypt, the military took over and excused the legitimate president of the country, Mohammad Mursi. None of these examples have allowed for the democratic process to take its course. In reality, they all sidestep the established system to gain an unearned advantage. Although American politicians are not sidestepping the democratic process, they are taking the country down a road that would end with a complete meltdown of the economic system, which amounts to a betrayal of the trust the people placed in them. Without trust democracy becomes just another word for tyranny. Sad is the day when the oldest functioning democracy takes its cues from dysfunctional democracies in the Middle East.
A game of political chicken: A government default
President Barack Obama and his democratic party’s unconvincing resolve encourages the Republicans to engage in a game of chicken. The game is afoot when two drivers race toward a cliff, the looser is the first to swerve or apply the brakes. In this high stakes game of political chicken both the Republicans and Democrats are speeding toward the cliff of default.
Not to make things more complicated, but the shutdown, which I talked about above, is one thing and the default is another issue all together. The U.S. government will not be able to pay its bills if the debt ceiling is not increased by October 15 when the U.S. Treasury would run out of money to meet its financial obligations. The most probable result of such a default is a complete meltdown of the international financial system forcing a global recession. The U.S. government currently has a debt ceiling of around $16 Trillion, which is roughly just over its annual budget.
On Thursday, the Republicans offered Obama a plan to increase the debt limit through November 22; i.e. pushing back default deadlines to fight another day. If this Republican made crisis is not averted they will be blamed, but so will the Democrats to some extent. Politicians are elected to do the hard work on behalf of the people, but currently Americans do not think Congress is doing a good job. Overall, Congress’ job approval fell to 11%, according the latest Gallup survey. It is hard for their job approval rating to get any worse. If they don’t pull their act together and find a way to stop playing childish games with the future of the country then the American people will be better served with a complete shutdown of the government. It is easier to deal with the aftermath stemming from incompetence than from selfish and malicious acts.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj