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Editorial: Congress’ focus should be on restoring government

Oct. 03, 2013 @ 12:29 AM

Where are the true statesmen when we need them, leaders who can accept that they may have to compromise to better serve their country?

Apparently, not in Washington, D.C. Or if they are there, they have opted to keep a low profile. How else to explain the behavior in the nation’s capital – behavior that has forced the federal government into a partial shutdown?

At this point, about 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed, meaning that in the short term they are not going to be paid. That in turn means that many of those workers, uncertain about when they will return to work, will cut their personal spending immediately. That, of course, will send a negative ripple through the economy. Many businesses already are concerned about the potential impact if the shutdown lasts for any length of time.

According to a USA Today report, the market research firm IHS Global Insight has estimated the shutdown could cost $1.6 billion a week in lost economic output. That translates to about $300 million a day or $12.5 million an hour. That no doubt will hurt the economy.

In addition, the inability of the nation’s leaders to keep the government running is an embarrassment to the United States from a global perspective. What sort of perception does this futile bickering inspire in leaders and people in other countries?

Clearly, a majority of the American public expects better. Fifty-three percent of people surveyed by Gallup last week said they preferred their political leaders compromise in order to get things done, while only about 25 percent preferred leaders to stick to their beliefs. In a separate Gallup survey, 47 percent of American said they believed the current budget showdown is more about scoring political points, while only 37 percent thought it had to do with defending principles.

Both Democrats and Republicans share blame for this mess. Each party appears more concerned about winning than doing what’s best for the country – an attitude that’s become more intense in recent years.

In the current disagreement, the Republicans in the House have chosen to tie their wish to derail the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to any legislation that would keep the government running, while the Democrats say they will not negotiate on Obamacare. That is the nub of this fight.

This is not the time or place to continue the long-running debate over the health care reform law. Despite widespread concerns about health care reform, the larger issue at this point is keeping the government running. If Obamacare proves to be less than billed or even a train wreck, Republicans no doubt will benefit in the future and could well be in a position to repeal it. But they are not in that position now.

The more important goal should be for Republicans and Democrats to work together sufficiently to pass a continuing resolution that allows full government operations to resume. And let’s hope the same spirit, if found to resolve this issue, will continue in coming days so that another stalemate won’t develop when the federal debt ceiling has to be dealt with in two weeks. Failure to resolve that matter could lead to even harsher economic consequences.

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