Gwen’s Take: The Breaking Point

Posted: Thu, 10/17/2013 - 3:46pm

Is Washington broken?

I was traveling last week, and everywhere I went, that question was greeted, understandably, with laughter.

I tried to defend democracy and the role of government in our lives. I really did. But Washington wasn’t helping.

A 16-day government shutdown, which according to economists cost $24 billion, seemed, in the end, a fruitless exercise. A tea party revolt fizzled—for now. Early predictions that President Obama or House Speaker Boehner would meet political Armageddon proved overwrought.

“At a moment when our economic recovery demands more jobs, more momentum, we've got yet another self-inflicted crisis that set our economy back,” President Obama said the morning the government reopened, adding, “And for what?”

President Obama called on his opponents to help repair the economic damage caused by a government shutdown [Photo: CNN].

Indeed. Small business owners, international investors, parents who depend on public assistance and citizens who now regard Washington as kindergarten on steroids are likely switching channels. That’s a bad idea.

It’s a bad idea to ignore the plight of people like John Anderson, a line cook at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian who lost two weeks’ pay -– and won’t get it back.

Like a lot of people, Anderson’s livelihood depends on the federal government, although he is not himself a federal employee. “They used us as pawns in this big ego game,” he said bitterly to The Washington Post’s Jim Tankersley this week. 

The game did not end when the debt ceiling was raised and federal workers returned to their desks. In fact, barring a conference committee agreement, we could be back at the same place in a matter of months.

Also, many politicians are still involved in fighting among themselves.

The president, fresh off an unalloyed victory on the budget, announced he plans to push House Republicans on immigration reform and the farm bill –- two issues passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate but languishing in the lower chamber. It’s not clear that the bruised conservatives who lost this time are open to negotiating on either of these issues.

And Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio say that even though serial efforts to repeal, defund and delay the Affordable Care Act failed, that fight is far from over.

Sen. Marco Rubio vowed to keep fighting against the Affordable Care Act [Photo: CNN].

“We are going to prevail on this issue,” he said on Fox News’ “Hannity.” “It is just a matter of time. We will prevail because ObamaCare is going to be a disaster. And it won’t be long before many people in this town will be scrambling to try to fix it.”

If only his party was not still busy fighting with itself. Sen. John McCain questioned the intelligence of Republican House members. The conservative web site immediately denounced Republicans who struck a deal to open the government -- among them GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who faces re-election in Kentucky next year.

Democrats have remained relatively mute, allowing the president the stage to channel American exasperation.

“You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position,” President Obama said Thursday. “Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it.”

But breaking it appears to be exactly the point.