Lost in the extremely frivolous debate over which side won and which side lost in the government shutdown is a larger question: Why did this weekend’s chaos even have to happen in the first place?
Although it only lasted 72 hours, the shutdown of our federal government had serious implications. There were no winners, only losers. In Maryland alone, more than 100,000 federal workers were left in the lurch, worrying about their next paycheck and whether they would be able to pay their bills.
Even worse, the failure of Congress to do their job couldn’t have helped their already low approval rating. One federal worker described to me how disrespected and insulted he felt by his elected leaders. Our military personnel, too, were treated as pawns in a game between Congressional Democrats and Republicans.
So, was the shutdown necessary? Of course not. The only reason we had a shutdown is because we have leaders who care more about winning than doing the right thing and moving the country forward.
Although the five issues at the root of the shutdown are complex, there is broad consensus among the American people:
1. Avoid a shutdown. As far back as a year ago, 65 percent of voters said Congress should take all necessary steps to avoid a government shutdown, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.
2. Create a permanent extension of DACA. An overwhelming majority of Americans — 87 percent in a recent CBS News poll — believe people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program should be allowed to remain in the U.S.
3. Extend TPS for Salvadoran immigrants. Numerous polls show broad support for extending Temporary Protective Status (TPS) and providing legal status to 200,000 undocumented immigrants from El Salvador and other nations who were welcomed to this country after suffering wars and disasters in their home countries. President Trump vowed to end the TPS program in March.
4. Add more border security. There is disagreement over the wall, but in a poll by The Washington Post/ABC News, Americans overwhelmingly support DACA and “more border security,” an equitable compromise that seems out of reach by Congress.
5. Renew CHIP. Finally, most Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, favor extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that Congress held up for five months in the partisan budget fights.
In the eyes of most Americans, none of these issues are insurmountable to address or difficult to resolve. But, in a Congress that is led by the extremes of both parties — and where a “win at all cost” mentality is the guiding principle — agreement and action on all of these issues is impossible.
As long as the two-parties play to their bases, the 10 percent of Americans on each extreme, disagreement and discord will continue. This same 10 percent at each end of the political spectrum are the ones who contact their Congressmen and Senators, march in Washington, fund campaigns and vote in primaries. Unfortunately, the rest of Americans who are in the political middle are not nearly as active. As a result, their views are often ignored.
The Senate consists of 100 people, which is roughly the size of my company. In any business, there is rarely consensus about almost anything. But, we communicate, collaborate and make decisions that we believe are in our collective best interest. It’s astounding to me that in the U.S. Senate our representatives have not built up enough trust and working relationships with each other to operate in a similar manner. It was just a few decades ago that the Senate was considered the world’s most respected, deliberative body. Very few, if any, would say the same about it today.
Fortunately, in the middle of all this partisan chaos and finger pointing, there was one bright spot — we saw how moderate voices can wield significant influence in the Senate. The shutdown was ended by a group of about 20 middle-of-the-road senators who worked together to broker a deal in a bipartisan fashion. The bad news is the best result they could achieve was a 17-day extension of the government’s operating budget, along with a six-year extension of CHIP (which is not insignificant). So, in three weeks, we may be right back at another showdown over a potential shutdown.
This is no way to run a government. This is why we need new leadership in Washington, and why we need more non-partisan leaders who will bring back both civil discourse and a culture of collaboration. We need leaders who will focus on making changes that will benefit all Americans and prioritize people over politics.