I understand the frustration Sherri Holcombe expressed in her recent letter. I’m also frustrated and disappointed with President Barack Obama and Congress. That said, financial shutdown of our government is not the answer.
Gridlock has crippled our government from the first day Obama was elected. Partisan obstruction through procedural means and outright filibuster has risen to levels unseen in American history.
Here’s some background on this issue: In the Senate, a successful vote to invoke cloture is required to stop an actual filibuster, or just the threat of one. This requires 60 votes. From 1947 to 1960, the Senate held just four cloture votes to stop filibusters. During the first six years of President George W. Bush’s two terms, motions for cloture were filed 204 times to overcome filibusters. During the same period for Obama, motions for cloture were filed 391 times. That suggests an approximate 91 percent increase in use of filibusters to block legislation.
The fundamental mission of these filibusters was not to improve our government or protect minority concerns, but instead a scorched-earth policy to deny even the smallest achievement to this administration. As Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said, the single most important thing he wants to achieve is for Obama to be a one-term president. When that didn’t happen, the situation escalated from obstruction to shutdown of the government.
Laws may be challenged on a constitutional basis in our courts. However, once legislation has passed a constitutional challenge, it must be honored and respected. Functional democracy relies on the concept of loyal opposition. Honor and respect of law and the process by which law is created is the loyal part of this concept. That is now gone. Democracy as we knew it is broken.
Obamacare was presented on the floor of our legislature for debate and a vote. It passed both houses. The president signed the bill. It survived a constitutional challenge. It is now law. Political groups opposed to Obamacare have shut down the government, effectively taking hostages and demanding more negotiation. They threaten a refusal to address the looming government debt ceiling, allowing the government to potentially default on debts incurred on money Congress already has spent.
Political decisions are supposed to be debated on the floors of our Congress and Senate. This is the appropriate time and place for negotiation. However, when positions are set by party affiliation rather than through debate, debate itself becomes meaningless. This is not the way the founders designed our government to work.
Holding our government and economy hostage crosses the limits of civil democracy. It has implications for the world economy that could be considered economic terrorism. A majority of Americans want legislative issues to get real debate and a simple up-or-down vote. We demand a government that works. You cannot ignore the voice of the people and avoid the consequences by reducing the number of citizens allowed to vote. Soon, there’s going to be a reckoning.