By John Garamendi
After 16 days of government paralysis, with our country hours away from economic freefall, the House and Senate have passed a bill that is almost identical to what we could have passed 16 days ago. Yes, we have reopened government and avoided default, but real damage has already been done to our economy, millions of Americans’ livelihoods, and investor confidence.
This was a pointless, destructive, and preventable crisis orchestrated by the 80-person tea party faction in the House and a handful of tea party Senators – a minority of their Conference. To make matters worse, the final outcome has been clear almost from the beginning.
With this compromise, we’ve once again kicked the can down the road, although at least this time we will have a Budget Conference Committee where hopefully Members of Congress actually interested in governance can negotiate, hash out our differences, and pass a lasting budget. That’s a process I’ve been calling for since April. If it is once again derailed by extremists inside and outside of Congress, we’ll face another manufactured crisis in January.
From the beginnings of our Republic to the present day, there have always been fierce disagreements between parties and within parties. Reasonable and sincere people can disagree. Every law can be improved. That’s the foundation of a healthy democracy.
However, the reckless hostage taking of the American economy, which has been pursued by the tea party over the past three years, is unprecedented in modern times. It is harming our economic recovery, destroying jobs, and making international investors wonder if the United States is as safe a place to invest as it once was. So long as the tea party faction in Congress is willing to hold our government and economy for ransom every time a deadline looms to extract demands they can’t achieve through our democracy’s normal legislative process, our economy will be stunted and our reputation diminished. There are reasonable voices on both sides of the aisle. Let’s listen to them.
What was this shutdown even about? The tea party originally told us they shut down the government because they couldn’t use normal democratic means to take away the health benefits in the Affordable Care Act – which is the law of the land. After a few days, the tea party decided it wasn’t about health care; it was about “respect.” Some have labeled this the Seinfeld Shutdown because it isn’t about anything.
What we do here in the halls of Congress has an impact across the country and around the world. We need to be working to create jobs and build opportunities for hardworking Americans – not tearing them down. We need to be promoting research and educational advancement – not disrupting them. We need to be working to make sure a financial crash never happens again – not creating conditions that make it more likely.
To those who say Congressional Democrats have been unwilling to compromise, I encourage you to take a closer look. The bill Democrats voted for today includes steep sequester cuts to Meals-on-Wheels, Head Start, groundbreaking research, and other services we value dearly. It also imposes harmful furloughs on our dedicated civilian military employees. We didn’t want to do that. The bill we voted on today slashes services for struggling families at a rate below the original Paul Ryan budget.
Those are not the values of our party. But as stewards of the most important country and economy on the planet, we know that we have a higher calling. We know that sometimes a tough vote is needed to prevent catastrophic harm. We know we can’t say “no” to every bill that isn’t exactly what we want.
As a direct result of the government shutdown, in my district: over a thousand civilian employees at Travis and Beale Air Force bases were furloughed; services were reduced at the Lake County Family Center, which provides support for victims of child abuse, domestic abuse, and rape; over 200 workers at USDA’s headquarters in Davis were furloughed and service centers were closed, meaning farmers couldn’t get loans and other services; companies that needed a license from the Department of Commerce to export advanced technology put their orders on hold; the Sacramento, Colusa, and Sutter National Wildlife Refuges were closed; and the Dixon Stand Down for struggling veterans had to scramble for money when a Department of Labor loan was delayed. What was gained by the shutdown? Nothing! And a lot was lost.
We can stop this madness and prevent another crisis in the future, but it’s going to take the House Republican leadership to once and for all stop catering to what the Wall Street Journal has labeled the Kamikaze Caucus. It means they’ll have to fear the lasting damage they’re doing to our economy more than they fear radical Members and outside groups. It means they’ll have to start listening to the vast majority of Republicans who don’t want to careen from crisis to crisis.
It is my hope that the Budget Conference Committee will form a rational, bipartisan framework for funding the government. We can use this process to develop budgets that responsibly manage the long-term challenge of our deficit while also protecting our most vulnerable and making sure the government invests in priorities like education, infrastructure, research, and setting the stage for American manufacturing. These are the building blocks of a healthier economy capable of creating good jobs. Let’s work together to bring back the American Dream and never again give extremists the power to take our economy to the brink.