On Avoiding Another Shutdown


The longest-ever federal government shutdown ended two weeks ago, but the political brinkmanship and partisan strife that caused it are still with us. In a week, a weary nation could face yet another costly disruption. Pardon us if we ask a simple question: Is this any way to run a government? Is this what the architects of this great democracy had in mind — scorched-earth politics and a rigid aversion to the hard currency of any functioning democracy: compromise?

Border security is a real issue, but President Trump’s exaggerations about the threat along our southern boundary have created a needless political crisis and given aid and comfort to the racists and xenophobes in our midst. Democratic leaders have not done enough to propose compromise solutions that take into account the anxieties — some real, some inflamed by commentators who trade in fear and anger — in a nation experiencing unsettling economic change.

President Trump’s renewed threat to declare a national emergency to build the wall suggests a disturbing lack of awareness of the appropriate limits of presidential power and it could trigger a constitutional crisis, one more distraction for a Congress that has done little to address a host of pressing issues.

The latest shutdown compromised critical government services, starting with air traffic control and border security, and inflicted significant damage on a vulnerable economy. The shutdown — and the inability of national leaders to develop a rational budget process and avoid using critical spending as a political blunt instrument — added unnecessary anxiety for the millions of Americans, including many in our own Jewish community, who depend on a long list of health and welfare programs.

The spectacle of executive and legislative branches that seemingly cannot deal with their most basic obligations undercuts the very foundations of a democratic system that remains the best protection for all vulnerable minorities.

It’s not fashionable to say it these days, but a strong, effective and stable federal government IS important for the welfare and security of its citizens. This latest shutdown and the threat of more to come disrupt those critical functions and further erodes confidence that our leaders have our backs.

Now is the time — indeed, it is long past the time — for leaders in both parties to come together to forge a responsible and stable budget process and to stop playing partisan games with programs that are so vital to so many and that keep us safe in a dangerous world.