I don't write a whole lot about politics because I prefer to amuse my readers not offend them. But when my almost 13-year-old daughter got upset this morning when she saw a news segment saying the government was about to shut down, and she asked me how the government could let that happen, something inside me snapped. And I let loose.
And now I'm going to share what I told her with all of you. Fortunately for you, you can close this page if you don't want to hear what I had to say. My daughter, on the other hand, had to listen to my diatribe (though she said it helped her understand what was going on -- and she's used to mom ranting and raving about politics).
In a nutshell: I explained to my adolescent daughter that under President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, the government ran a surplus -- that is, it took in more money (mainly in the form of taxes) than it spent. Then under President George W. Bush, a Republican, the government squandered that surplus, in part by launching two unnecessary and costly wars, and wound up with a deficit -- that is spending more money than it took in. And that the deficit has continued to spiral out of control, and that Congress (which has a Republican majority) and the President (Barack Obama, a Democrat) wanted to do something about it, but that they disagreed on how to fix the problem.
I then reminded her that there was a fundamental, philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans. That Republicans believed in a small Federal government whose primary (and some believe only) job was to protect this country from outside threats -- i.e., tax dollars should be spent on defense. Moreover, Republicans were against raising taxes and taxation in general. (Though really who likes taxes? Some of us are just more realistic about it -- and like the idea of good public schools and clean air and clean water and a social safety net.)
And so if money had to be raised or saved, Republicans believed the solution was to slash spending -- on everything except defense and, OK, entitlements (Social Security and Medicare), which make up the majority of the U.S. Federal budget. Which means that you have to slash spending on things like education, and school lunches, and PBS and NPR (even though the savings for doing so would be a pittance and would solve NOTHING), and other programs that help and benefit the 99% of Americans who are not millionaires and/or in Congress.
Democrats on the other hand, while they are not against cutting spending, don't believe it is a sin or a crime to occasionally raise taxes -- and prefer to cut spending strategically, so as not to inflict unnecessary pain or suffering on Americans.
And so we have an impasse, with Democrats suggesting billions in spending cuts, some of them quite painful, and Republicans continuing to say "fuck you." (Though I didn't use the F word when explaining this to my daughter.)
And if the Republicans in Congress and the President can't reach some sort of agreement today, the Federal government will shut down -- though every member of Congress will still get a big fat paycheck (and spare me the lecture about it's only because the Constitution requires it -- I know), even though the people who actually do the work for them, as well as millions of other Federal employees and soldiers who really need the money, will not.
Does that help explain it, Sweetheart?
UPDATE #1: Many thanks to FOB CRR for sharing this article, titled "It's Not Really About Spending," which clearly puts the blame where it is due.
UPDATE #2: Just received this thoughtful email from my Congressman, which contains information about the government shutdown and which services will be affected -- and which will not.
UPDATE #3: Government shutdown avoided. Nothing to see here. Move along.
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