Congress' Groundhog's Day Problem
Are Washington politicians doomed to a cycle of gridlock?
A few weeks ago, we celebrated Groundhog’s Day, the “holiday” that predicts the end of winter and arrival of spring. This year Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow and that means that we can anticipate the early arrival of spring, warmer weather and new life blossoming around us. If only there were some way to predict when Washington gridlock would end and we could get some things accomplished. It seems that we have been having our own Groundhog’s Day, albeit the kind that Bill Murray experienced in the 1993 movie of the same name.
Spoiler Alert: Bill Murray plays a meteorologist who is unable to escape Groundhog’s Day. He relives the day over and over again and nothing, including suicide prevents him from waking up again on February 2nd. Initially, he uses the curse for evil, but when that fails to get him out of the time loop, he decides to do good. After helping people, improving himself and pursuing the girl of his dreams, he’s eventually able to break the time loop and wakes on February 3rd.
Legislators, and we the people with them, have been stuck in a type of time loop ourselves. Just when it seems that we have made some small bit of progress, we wake up and experience another day that feels just like the last. At the end of 2012, there was the threat of going over the fiscal cliff. With both sides saying they were standing firm in their beliefs, a deal was literally agreed to and just in the nick of time. That deal saved the country from dealing with devastating tax increases that would have hurt the country’s economy and our individual pockets. But the one thing that was not solved in that deal was the sequestration.
The sequester was designed as a mechanism to help legislators come to a decision on how to reduce the federal budget. A bipartisan “super committee” of 12 US Congressmen and Senators failed to reach a decision and the resulting sequestration will create severe cuts to defense and nondefense spending slated to take effect on March 1st. The 10 percent across-the-board cuts will affect jobs within the defense sector and programs like Meals on Wheels, HUD and the USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC. While we battled over the fiscal cliff and were able to deal with some things, the deal that got us out of the fiscal cliff simply postponed us dealing with the sequester to just two months later.
Sequestration can be prevented if both Democrats and Republicans work together for good, just as Bill Murray’s character did in the movie. If legislators focused on how to help people instead of party politics, perhaps we could break out of the cycle that keeps us questioning whether we’ll face deep cuts that will hurt us in one way or another. Just yesterday, Senate Democrats created a deal that would create revenue and make cuts. House Speaker John Boehner said he won’t act until the President and Senate come up with a deal. Now that a deal has been created, the real test will be will Boehner and Republicans keep their word.
There are many moments that people might want to relive. Winning a big game, an engagement or marriage, and graduation are all occasions that many people might not mind doing over and over again. But many people are not interested in reliving fights over budgets and cuts, tax increases and debt limits. We must encourage congress to make the hard decisions. We must all realize that it will be a little bit harder, but it won’t be hard forever. We have to find solutions to problems, not put off the hard decisions. Putting them off doesn’t make them any easier to solve, it just means you have to keep reliving the anguish.