Why Congress lacks any common sense

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Katie Holmes/Staff

The battle lines have been drawn. As the government shuts down, our leadership continues to be uncooperative. The government’s traditionally routine authorization to keep its doors open, known as the continuing resolution, has once again devolved into gridlock. Both political parties continue to bask in national attention as they herald their plans as the most responsible solution to today’s manufactured crisis and demonize their opposition in the media. The parties are hoping to energize their bases and open the wallets of high-profile donors. We are witnessing the firing salvo of the 2014 congressional elections as both sides bask in national attention. Our leaders should instead be working together toward solutions rather than blaming one another.

Understandably, the American people are disgusted by Washington’s consistent inaction. The global community laughs at the inability of our leaders to resolve their petty differences. I find it egregious that eleventh-hour-deadline-induced fights have become the forum of “debate” about fiscal responsibility, especially when the real loser to emerge from these cyclical crises is our generation.

The financial trajectory of our nation is particularly important to young adults, as we are the ones who will feel the greatest burden of today’s fiscal policy in insolvent social programs, rampant costs of education and more. Financial uncertainty threatens the prospect for generational equity, that we should have the same, if not better, opportunities than our parents and grandparents. This concept is central to our mission at Common Sense Action, especially here at Berkeley, where our rich history of activism further encourages our desire to make student voices heard.

Our lawmakers must find a way to rationally discuss fiscal reform instead of treating the subject as another excuse to engage in partisan warfare and political hostage-taking. House Republicans have made a risky tactical decision to conditionally tie government funding to weakening segments of the Affordable Care Act, a stance that is anathema to Senate Democrats and President Obama, who fought tooth and nail to get the law passed in the first place. These non-negotiations highlight the parties’ seemingly irreconcilable prescriptions to our greater financial unsustainability.

Our national debt must be controlled in order to make the necessary investments for economic growth, not in spite of them. Moreover, financial sustainability is essential in ensuring that our government works for us rather than forces our generation to work ever harder to support bloated social programs, an aging population, etc.

The government shutdown will have far-reaching economic consequences as a result of market uncertainty, direct federal unemployment and bureaucratic inefficiency. Other than being unable to celebrate Yosemite’s birthday on site this weekend, Berkeley students should be more concerned about the potential for an economic shock that could have long-lasting effects on job growth at the critical moment many of us are preparing to enter the workforce. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are experiencing furloughs that will have immediate negative economic consequences resulting from reduced consumer spending. Resource-strapped federal agencies will have to continue essential operations but in doing so must forfeit much of their capabilities, especially in terms of regulation and enforcement.

Nonetheless, the government shutdown is only a precursor to the looming debt-ceiling crisis that will threaten the already fragile economy in the coming weeks. The framing of that negotiation is not yet entirely clear, but we’re on track for the funding and borrowing debates to be wrapped together into a very dangerous confrontation and a maelstrom of government paralysis. If a continuing resolution is not passed and the government shutdown continues until we reach the debt ceiling, the federal government will simultaneously lack the legal authority to borrow money and spend on “nonessential services,” which are for the most part quite important. Despite the name, these services include things such as access to federally operated parks and museums, nutritional supplements and disaster-preparedness funding.

As a result, the economic impact of inaction will be disastrous, with the Bipartisan Policy Center estimating an immediate 32 percent cut in government spending in one scenario. With a systemic debt crisis, the last thing we need is to risk a relapse into recession or another credit downgrade, potentially worse than that of 2011, which the BPC estimates is costing taxpayers more than 18 billion dollars. This outcome will only make our debt less manageable and further burden our generation with future financial uncertainty.

Considering the political constraints set by the fast-approaching midterm elections, the only solution seems to be the late-night joint committees we have become all too familiar with. Cooperation is understandably difficult with the two parties holding very divergent philosophies about the role of government. However, I believe that only through mutual concessions can a responsible solution be reached without either side having to initiate the compromise. The larger issues of long-term fiscal responsibility must then be methodically approached during times of legislative peace to ensure thoughtful discussion and formulation. Ultimately, both sides are also going to have to compromise on some of their key values to make progress on our dire financial situation.

Sam Syde is the co-founder and vice president of Common Sense Action at Berkeley.

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