In Our View: Shutdown or Slimdown?

Semantics aside, federal government acrimony is disappointing



Shutdown or slimdown? The ridiculousness of the budget battle in Washington, D.C., can be found in the semantics.

On one hand, you have CNN, which counted down the hours to the “shutdown” of the federal government with a sort of doomsday clock. Once the deadline passed, the network started counting up. As of one point Wednesday morning, a graphic tucked into the corner of the screen read, “Day 2, Government Shutdown, 38:01:18.” And counting. Remarkably, given the breathless coverage, pigs had not begun to fly; dogs and cats were not living together; the Apocalypse did not appear to be nigh.

On the other hand, there was Fox News, which insisted upon calling the “shutdown” a “slimdown.” And regardless of how you feel about the perspective from which Fox often presents the news, the network’s description appears to be accurate. While Congressional members and President Obama continue to refer to a shutdown, and while government buildings and national parks and monuments have been closed, the government continued to function. About 800,000 federal workers deemed “non-essential” were furloughed while millions continued to work, providing fodder for critics who gleefully question why the government has that many employees who are not essential. Mail continued to be delivered; Social Security and military pay continued to be doled out; and, oh yeah, members of Congress continued to be paid.

For many people, the shutdown or slimdown hit hardest with news that Saturday’s scheduled football game between the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy might be postponed. Same with Army’s game at Boston College. When they start messing with our sports, for some Americans that’s the last straw. Meanwhile, a majority of the people are left shaking their collective heads over the impasse that has grown so childish.

House Republicans repeatedly have tried to defund the Affordable Care Act, with their efforts finally resulting in this week’s cluster bomb. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Tuesday that the infighting was a productive exercise “because we haven’t had a big debate about Obamacare, really, since it passed.” That is illogical. The fact is that Obamacare passed through Congress, was signed by the president, and has been law for more than three years. The law might need some tweaks here and there, but Republicans lost when Obama won re-election last year.

Congressional Republicans might sincerely believe they are fighting the good fight, yet the situation in Washington, D.C., does more to erode the public’s faith in our system of government than it does to restore it. A CNN/ORC poll released earlier this week showed that President Obama had a 44 percent approval rating. Congress, meanwhile, was at 10 percent — an all-time low. For several years, lawmakers have been hovering around a 20 percent approval rating, now they have sunk to previously unseen depths. Yet, as Gallup noted after a poll last spring: “Although Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the job Congress in general is doing, voters re-elect most members of Congress in every election.”

Many reasons for that lie in the process by which we elect representatives, particularly in campaign finance, yet that is a discussion for another time; voters won’t have an opportunity to make big changes in Washington, D.C., for another 13 months. So, for now, the focus is on an impasse that directly hits 800,000 federal workers, and could have a very real impact on the economy — although that likely has been overstated. You can argue semantics all you wish, but perhaps the best word for the situation is disappointing.