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Failure to communicate leaves plenty of blame to go around

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 11:20 a.m. CDT

The federal government shut down this morning at 12 a.m. And much to some folks’ surprise, the sun rose in the east a few hours later.

Judging only from my drive to work this morning, gravity is still working, too. The laws of physics are still in effect, and fabric of the space-time continuum is still intact.

The electricity is still on, at least at my house, the Daily News office, and the few places I happened upon on my drive in-between today. The water is still running, and the recyclables were picked up (although about a half hour before midnight).

Phones still ring. Television stations are still broadcasting. The Internet is still adding terabytes of new information by the minute.

Kim Jong-Un is still the madman running North Korea. Bashir al-Assad still possesses chemical weapons. Iran is still progressing toward a nuclear weapons capability. Sadly.

In other words, the world is almost just as it was at 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time last night.

You can blame my colleagues in the media, many of whom were parroting what they heard from politicians and government bureaucrats, for the implication otherwise. In fact, in my lifetime, this government shutdown is most special (so far) for the fact it took nearly half of my lifetime to happen.

This is the 17th time it has happened since I was in preschool, meaning on average it happens once every 25 months or so. It almost happened in 2011, but if it had, it would have thrown the average off (I guess).

I’m not suggesting it’s no big deal, because it is (more on that in a moment). What I am suggesting, however, is that we will manage, because we have before.

This government shutdown is a big deal because it represents a complete and utter failure to communicate that breached every branch of the U.S. government. As a result, people who can least weather a game of political brinksmanship are going to be stuck in the middle while those who are to blame don’t even feel the effects of their failure.

Since it’s what we do in situations such as this, who’s to blame? To be honest, everyone. Now let me explain.

Congress is required to pass a budget each year, from which the House prepares its spending bills for concurrence by the Senate and approval by the President. The last time Congress passed a budget was in 2009; since then, the Democrat-controlled Senate has failed to approve one of its own.

As a result, the U.S. government has been funded by a series of continuing resolutions, which maintain government spending at existing budgeted levels for a specific, limited, length of time. The most recent continuing resolution ended at the end of the U.S. government’s fiscal year, which was 12 a.m. Eastern Time today.

The power of the purse lies with Congress, and specifically, with the U.S. House of Representatives. However, the President has the power to call one or both houses back into session to deal with specific legislation.

President Barack Obama didn’t. And, when a government shutdown is looming, one would think a leader would call upon both houses of Congress to come together and get their job accomplished.

That he did not means he has to carry a healthy dose of the blame, too.

You can’t fault the American people for making their wishes known. But there’s been a failure to listen in the halls of Congress, by both Republicans and Democrats.

It’s been clear from almost the start that a large majority of Americans are opposed to the Affordable Care Act in its totality. However, an almost equally large number of Americans seem to think the legislation contains at least a few redeeming qualities.

It also has been equally clear the American people don’t like the idea of a government shutdown. Particularly when you think about these key facts:

• the shutdown has done nothing to stop, slow down or even impede the implementation of the Affordable Care Act;

• President Obama’s pay is a mandatory expenditure that must be paid, even during the shutdown; and

• the 27th Amendment, which was meant to prevent Congress from giving itself pay raises that take effect before “We the People” have had a chance to vote, also shields it from taking a loss of pay during the shutdown.

Republicans have fought tooth-and-nail for their “repeal and replace” strategy — which I’m not afraid to say I support — but did so in a manner that forced an 11th-hour, all-or-nothing proposition on Democrats. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats continue to make the 2012 Election into a referendum mandate on the Affordable Care Act, even though every poll out there suggests otherwise.

Unstoppable Force, meet Immovable Object. Stalemate. America loses.

But that’s not the end of the “blame game” in this debacle. While Americans made it clear where they stood on the issue of the Affordable Care Act and the current government shutdown, we have to shoulder a level of blame for letting it happen.

In a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” the buck ultimately stops with us. We voted these clowns into office without holding them accountable for their past arrogance and inability to listen to us.

Are we really that shocked it got us into this mess?

So, as my colleagues in the media move into 24-7 “shutdown panic” mode, the real question we each need to answer has become much more obvious. We each need to look in the mirror and ask, “What are you going to do about it?”

• • •

If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

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