Much of the political debate in Washington over the next year is going to be dominated by two potential pending crises: a government shutdown and a failure to raise the debt ceiling. If Congress fails to actively and regularly avert them, these crises could significantly disrupt our society, cost money and hamper the economy. Yet both of these are artificial problems created solely by our dysfunctional government. There is no logical reason we can’t permanently remove the potential of ever being hit by either of these two negative events.
Just pass one unlimited increase in the debt ceiling
If Congress ever failed to pass a bill raising the limit, it would cause serious economic problems. Congress could permanently deal with the problem by taking just one vote fully removing any limit on borrowing. Instead, Congress only passes small, incremental increases forcing itself to take a politically unpopular vote on the issue regularly. They are constantly creating a pending crisis if the limit isn’t raised again. It allows the potential for the vote to be taken hostage by a minority in the government.
While I find it unlikely that any large number of politicians would actively hurt the country by stopping the debt ceiling vote, this latest batch of freshmen Republicans has convinced me it is not totally impossible. Even if the possibility is only one in one hundred, why allow the risk to exist when it doesn’t need to.
If you had a time bomb in your living room, would you take ten minutes to reset the clock every few days or spend an hour permanently disarming it? How our government handles the debt ceiling is an equally stupid way to behave.
There is never a reason for a government shutdown, ever
Of the two potential crisis, clearly a government shutdown is a much more likely possibility. While not as devastating, it would be costly to the government, highly inconvenient to many, and hurtful to our economy.
There is no reason that a relatively small disagreement over the budget should ever result in a 1995-style government shutdown. Most other democracies have mechanisms in place to prevent a political disagreement from hurting the whole economy through a shutdown.
For example, many federal government functions, like the army, prisons, law enforcement, and security agencies, are already exempt from any potential government shutdown. There is no reason Congress can’t permanently extend this same kind of insulation to most parts of the government.
Artificial crises breed hostages
I doubt the current Republican Party would ever support eliminating the possibility of these artificial crises. They have found holding these votes hostage (combined with the fact they will benefit politically if they indirectly hurt the economy), far too effective a political weapon for forcing Obama to give into their demands.
I would hope, though, that Democrats realize we have entered an age of extreme political hardball tactics, with Congress becoming more engaged in partisan fighting and crippled by gridlock. In this era, governing through what are, in effect, a series of unnecessary time bombs isn’t a smart way to run a government.