The government is shut down. Eight hundred thousand people are out of work. National parks are closed. NASA is closed. The courts are working unpaid and will soon be vastly understaffed. Investigations into health violations at food processing plants are on hold. Several organizations that keep us safe and ensure our well-being such as the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration are now shuttered.
Welcome to the new normal.
Months and months ago, we were hit with the first inklings of a major budget impasse: the sequester. Sequestration was supposed to be an enormously unpopular and austere series of cuts, cuts that no one in Congress would think of allowing to pass. The targets were programs that both Democrats and Republicans loved and cared for. Surely with that kind of gun to their heads, Congress could pass a budget?
Nope. Sequestration became the new normal, and no one really cared after the first month.
Now, of course, we are struggling to pass a continuing resolution that will fund the government at sequestration levels. A real “budget,” which funds the government for a whole year, isn’t even on the table. The idea of even funding the government at normal levels is laughable.
All because of some dumb debate over whether poor people should be able to have health care!
The word on everyone’s tongue right now, of course, is “compromise.” “Compromise” is valued in politics, particularly when it’s the other side doing it. Each side of the aisle wants “compromise,” and neither is going to get it. “Compromise” was also the motto of the supercommittee to come up with a budget before sequestration hit, and they came up with precisely zip — we certainly didn’t reverse the sequester with “compromise.”
So our government is fundamentally broken and will probably not recover for quite a while. That’s not surprising considering things like gerrymandering, rampant disenfranchisement, the two-party system that prevents us from having any real choice, lax corporate fundraising laws, and all that jazz. We can at least take comfort in knowing that our politicians whom we didn’t vote for and don’t support are at least unable to pass any legislation that we dislike.
Luckily, we won’t have to deal with this broken government for much longer because we’ll run out of money and default sometime in late October or early November. Thanks to some happy quirks of finance, we may be able to prioritize payments and pay off China and Japan, at the expense of our Social Security and federal pension programs, and we may have a few weeks before a global financial crisis really takes effect. We’ll have a massively destabilized dollar, and economics textbooks will have to be rewritten because U.S. Treasury bonds will no longer be a perfectly safe investment, but at least that’s good for the economics textbook industry.
“Compromise” is probably not coming. The Democrats are more likely to cave than the Republicans because they stand to lose a lot less face and because their constituents are used to disappointment anyway. That being said, it’s still unlikely that a “compromise” will be reached in time to avert a global financial crisis. Even then, we will simply have to repeat this whole fiasco in three months or so when this continuing resolution expires. Short of a total dissolution of Congress and maybe a rewrite of the Constitution, there are not very many measures that can be taken to end this gridlock.
All over whether or not poor people should be able to get health care!
Help is not coming. We will hit the debt ceiling and default, and we will take the world with us. Default will become the new normal. We’ll raid Social Security and the federal pension fund to pay our foreign and domestic creditors and be done with it. The government will probably remain shut down, and more and more programs will remain unfunded. By next year we’ll have nothing more than a military and a room full of angry legislators, with poverty, hyperinflation, famine and despair commonplace.
Welcome to the new normal.
Justin Roczniak is the op-ed editor of The Triangle. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.