Threat of federal shutdown exposes dire incompetence

The federal government proved once again that when it comes to avoiding disaster at the very last minute, there's nobody better than Uncle Sam.

For those who've been living under a rock for the last few weeks, Congressional debate over President Barack Obama's proposed budget, as well as the political brinkmanship of Speaker of the House John Boehner, nearly led to a shutdown of the federal government on Friday.

This would have resulted in several serious problems: Pay would have been frozen for federal employees including soldiers, deployed or otherwise. Social services, like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Veterans Affairs would have shut down. National parks and monuments would have closed. What a relief to the American people, then, that our government could come to terms and avoid such a terrible situation.

Except it didn't, really, did it? Congress extended the period in which to debate the budget. Nothing was actually resolved; it just agreed that more time was needed to duke it out. That's the biggest problem America faces: Our government is incapable of compromise.

The central problem with the budget is the national debt, currently sitting at $14.2 trillion or so. That's $14.2 million millions we owe to various other governments, and it's a debt we want to pay down.

How do we pay it down, though? The Republicans want to take an axe to many big-spending social welfare programs, including the aforementioned Medicare and Medicaid. The Democrats, by contrast, are shooting for a tax hike for the rich, standing in stark opposition to the Republican plan to cut taxes for the rich while continuing to tax the middle and lower classes in the hope that Reagan-esque "trickle down" economics will save the country. The two sides are absolutely committed to their own interests and, as the near-shutdown proved, are utterly unwilling to work together until the country is on the brink of disaster.

What this means for the American people is frightening. Any pretense of the federal government actually working for us has been thrown out the window. The political brawling of last week is proof that party interests, not the interests of a war-weary and financially beleaguered citizenry, are all that matter in the minds of our federal politicians.

Obviously they don't care about us; no government that claims to have the best interests of its constituents at heart could conscionably risk a shutdown of federal services, upon which not only its citizens but also its states depend. To actually consider withholding pay and benefits from soldiers actively fighting not one, but three engagements should be the litmus test of a failed government.

It's time for a change: The Republicans and Democrats either have to figure out how to reach across the aisle, or the American people have to assert their political will in a more real way than complaints and, admittedly, angsty editorials. The government must hear us.

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