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October 25, 2013

The shutdown that didn't have to be

by Rep. Susan A. Davis 

Last week, after a 16-day government shutdown, Senate Democrats and Republicans cobbled together a deal to re-open the government and avoid the first ever default in United States history.

The shutdown showdown was a reckless exercise that didn’t need to happen.  The final deal could have easily been put together well before all the looming deadlines and without damaging our economy.

How did we get here? A small minority within the House Majority believed they saw a prime opportunity to finally get their white whale – the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

With the government set to run out of money and the debt ceiling fast approaching, a band of House Republicans led by a certain senator from Texas and enabled by the Speaker of the House sought to defund the ACA as a condition to allow the federal government to keep functioning.

President Obama and congressional Democrats rightly proclaimed that this is not the way we do business in America.  We work within the system through compromise and bipartisanship, not threaten to bring the whole system down.

The House Majority then moved forward with their strategy of shutting down the government to get concessions from the President on the ACA.

For 16-days each side waited for other side to blink.

Meanwhile the damage caused by the shutdown racked up:

  • In San Diego, 33,000 federal workers were furloughed. Many more were required to stay on the job without pay.
  • A local economist estimated that San Diego would experience an economic hit of $7 million a week. That means the 16-day shutdown cost our region more that $14 million dollars.
  • The Miramar Air Show was cancelled at the last minute costing the base $700,000, which could have an impact on programs designed to benefit military personnel and their families.
  • The Cabrillo National Monument turned 100 during the shutdown. Its birthday bash had to be cancelled. The National Park Service estimated that it lost $32 million a day in entrance fees and other revenue.

All the while the deadline to a U.S. default slowly crept up and the stock markets got jittery.  Stories of what default would mean began to surface. 

It would put us in unimaginable and uncharted territory. It would have a ripple effect throughout our economy – and the world economy, for that matter – from increasing mortgage interest rates to shrinking 401(k) plans to Social Security benefits not going out.

At the eleventh hour a deal was struck between parties. For the most part, save a few minor exceptions, it’s a clean bill.

It funds the government until January 15, 2014, and the debt ceiling is raised until February 7, 2014.

The measure includes a Republican-negotiated provision requiring the administration ensure the eligibility of individuals receiving subsidies under the ACA, something the administration was planning to implement anyway.

It requires both the House and Senate to work out the differences in the budgets each chamber passed, something Democrats have been asking for months.

And it provides back pay to federal workers.

In the end, the deal passed with bipartisan support in both chambers and ended the crisis.

But did it really have to be this way? One of the unique aspects of our democracy is that despite the disagreements and fights that may occur on legislation, once it becomes law we move on.

We’ve had epic battles before on a variety of issues – suffrage, civil rights, voting rights and Medicare, to name a few.

Of course, there have always been efforts to roll back some provisions in these laws. There have also been efforts – bipartisan efforts - to improve them.

But never before did we have a party shutdown the government and threaten a default to stop the implantation of one law.  It’s just not something we did.  We’ve always worked within the legislative process.

Sadly, that reputation has been tarnished with this latest fight.

But second chances are as American as apple pie. Hopefully, we will learn from this and realize there are no winners from governing by crisis.

We have a new set of deadlines approaching next year. I hope we show respect for the democratic process and meet these deadlines with a little more dignity.

This piece originally appeared in Uptown News.

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