Government shutdown result of larger issues than Obamacare

info@islandpacket.comOctober 2, 2013 

We are now in day three of the government shutdown, and many I've talked with ask three questions. How'd we get here? What's it mean? And when do Republicans and Democrats stop blaming each other for it?

The last question won't be answered in our lifetime, and so let me focus on the policy implications as I see them after five months in Washington.

We are here because there has been an absolute breakdown of the funding process in Washington. In stark contrast to when I left Congress 13 years ago, what was once an annual debate on 12 federal spending categories has devolved to funding government by so-called continuing resolutions. In bulk, and without debate or amendment, government winds up simply funded at last year's levels. Among other things, that makes the government we do have less effective because the planning process becomes near impossible for agencies. In simplest form, Republicans want less spending and Democrats more. I am on the Republicans' side here because Congressional Budget Office numbers show that in 12 years there will only be enough money for interest and entitlement spending -- and nothing else without huge change.

In that regard, we might want to consider the current government shutdown a preview of impacts one hundred times worse if we don't get our financial house in order. One can argue about the tactics and timing of this particular debate -- the nexus here was Republicans' question on whether or not we can afford another $1 trillion dollar entitlement -- but it underscores the degree to which we need to have this debate as a society. Twelve years is coming fast.

Additionally, many of us have had real questions about not just the cost, but the implementation of Obamacare given its most unusual rollout. Because of this, Republicans have tried to force one last conversation on it here in Congress, and though our Founding Fathers laid out a format by which disagreements are resolved between the House and Senate, thus far, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the president have said "no." In fact, there's a lot more to be said about Founding Fathers in this debate than meets the eye.

There is a constitutional issue at play that hasn't been discussed, but one that I think provides legitimacy to the Republican House's attempts to delay implementing this new law. Quite simply, selective implementation of a law warrants delay of that law. Our Founding Fathers were very deliberate in breaking up authority and power, and accordingly, gave to each branch of government different duties and responsibilities. Congress creates, the judiciary interprets and the executive branch administers the law. Based on that separation of powers, when a law is passed there is no executive authority to revise the law by picking and choosing which parts will be enforced. At the core, that's what has happened with Obamacare.

Can you imagine if George Bush or Bill Clinton had decided they only wanted to enforce tax cuts or increases on a selective basis? In this case, the president has decided to waive the implementation of the employer mandate while leaving in place the mandate for individuals. This is not a small technical part of a law, but rather essential to the working of the overall program. More than 1,200 businesses had been granted these waivers before the delay of the entire employer mandate. Members of Congress and their staffs got the same. In total, there have been seven different areas of the law that the president elected to delay. If the president had pressed for legislative adjustments to the law to cover these things it would have been different, but that wasn't the case. We plow new constitutional ground.

There have been 17 government shutdowns over the past 36 years. Many occurred when Democrats controlled the House, Senate and presidency; all occurred over policy differences. They are the bluntest of leverage points in politics, and in every instance were used to try to advance the will of what was thought to be the will of the majority of those who sent them. When Harry Reid and the president say they will not negotiate, defeat in the long run is near certain for the House, but that idea of using every tool to advance the voice of the majority of those who sent you is a fairly American and democratic concept. We will all see what comes next.

Rep. Mark Sanford represents the 1st Congressional District in South Carolina.

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