The wrong battlefield

Oct. 01, 2013 @ 05:05 PM

In the Research Triangle Park, a lot of cubicles are empty for at least a day so, and if you were planning to visit museums or monuments in the nation’s capital, this would not be a good week to do it.

That said, the immediate impact of the government’s partial shutdown that began early Tuesday is lighter here than many places – for our neighbors to the east around Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, for example. While marines and soldiers remain on duty, thousands of civilian employees will be affected by Washington’s deadlock.

We have become accustomed to partisan gridlock. Paralyzing feuds between Democrats and Republicans, between the House and Senate, between the president and congress have become numbingly routine.

But this is the first time in nearly 20 years the political cage match has shut down large chunks of the government. The wait for the next train wreck may not be nearly as long. We’re likely to see this shutdown in reruns in just a couple of weeks, when Congress must raise the debt limit or let the country default on its interest payments.  That is, it will be a rerun assuming all those idled workers get back to work before then.

It is tempting to cast a plague on both parties, and there’s been no shortage of shortsighted pigheadedness on both sides of the aisle with compromise virtually extinct.

But at this juncture of this particular fight, we’re inclined to agree with the congressman who described the fiery tea party conservatives to The New York Times as “lemmings with suicide vests.

“It’s kind of an insult to lemmings, so they’d have to be more than just a lemming, because jumping to your death is not enough.”

Those lines come, by the way, from a Republican – Devin Nunes of California.

His characterization underscores that many Republicans are dismayed at the scorched-earth approach of their most doctrinaire colleagues.

We understand many people have deep, principled objections to the Affordable Care Act, the never-ending target of congressional Republicans bent on pressing Obama to abandon or derail it as the price of keeping the lights on with a continuing budget resolution.

But that battle has been fought, repeatedly, and the president has won.  Obamacare passed both houses of Congress. Mitt Romney made his antipathy toward it a central tenet of his presidential campaign – and the voters sided with the president. The Supreme Court upheld most provisions of the law.

Tuesday, the day the government was hanging “closed” signs on the Grand Canyon, the insurance exchanges that are a key part of the act opened for business, here and across the country.

The budget resolution Congress is wrestling with this week is a once-routine maneuver to compensate for Congresses perennial failure to appropriate money for federal departments before the fiscal year begins.  The very need for it is a sign of Congress’ dysfunction.

It’s a stopgap measure. Congress needs to pass it. Then it needs to raise the debt limit to pay bills already incurred.

Then, it’s welcome to get back to its titanic struggle to resolve a sharply divided country’s legitimate philosophical differences over the role of government. But only then.