Everyone can remember a neighborhood kid who had the ability to call the shots at playtime.
Either his backyard had the perfect setup for building forts or she had the only Chutes and Ladders game on the block. Whatever it was, you had to follow house rules or risk hearing the dreaded words: “Fine. I just won’t play anymore.” Because that meant nobody was going to play anymore.
Now it seems 535 of those kids — 536, if you count the president — are in charge of running the country. The difference, of course, being that there’s more at stake than a fake fort or a board game.
At the risk of sounding like a Walter Cronkite signoff, it’s now day eight of the federal government shutdown. Nothing appears to be in motion to avoid days nine, 10, 11 and so on.
No doubt many members of Congress believe they have good reasons for taking a stand that puts hundreds of thousands of people out of work and places the activities of countless others on hold. Some of those reasons are idealistic. Some are nakedly self-serving. All of them presume Americans will pay less attention to the shutdown’s hardships and absurdities and more heed to House reps and senators bobbing up and down while hollering, “It’s all their fault!”
That leaves us with photos of U.S. Park Police standing guard at the gates of the Washington, D.C., World War II memorial and automatic email responses such as this one from Social Security: “During the federal government shutdown, staff will not be available to answer your inquiry.”
Reporters working with national data were confounded when government websites folded up for a time, blocking access to files, Q&A sections or other data that shouldn’t have required any gatekeepers.
Meanwhile, the hill on which this last stand is being played out, the Affordable Care Act, has opened for business online, though computer glitches have blocked enrollment for consumers ready to buy insurance policies.
While that stumbles forward, managers scramble to find ways to extend programs such as Meals on Wheels and Women, Infants and Children, which provide food, respectively, for the elderly and for babies and their caretakers. The National Institutes of Health can take no new patients for clinical trials and the Centers for Disease Control is unable to monitor flu season as usual. Permits and reviews for energy and transportation projects are blocked, as are new applications for small business loans and loan guarantees.
Vacationers who had no way of foreseeing this mess when they made travel plans months ago are locked out of national parks and monuments. Others trying to make plans will face delays with passports and visa applications.
Still on the horizon is the Oct. 17 deadline for raising the nation’s borrowing authority, pushing the country closer to the first default in its history.
Americans who are as divided as legislators along partisan lines appear to agree on one conclusion. A hissy fit is not acceptable national policy. We can’t force Congress to do its job. But voters do have ways to make known their displeasure.
Legislators would do well to remember the ladder that leads to elected office can also lead to a chute out of political power.