Grant Bosse: The last battle of World War II
They weren’t expecting a contested landing. After all, the World War II veterans disembarking the tour buses had just flown in from across the country to visit the memorial built to remember their service. The government shutdown had closed some federal agencies and forced others to cut back on staff, but the National World War II Memorial was an open plaza on the National Mall. Why would anyone close an outdoor monument?
Unfortunately, the National Park Service has no time for common sense. The federal government was shut down, and it wasn’t going to let a bunch of octogenarian veterans walk all over the World War II Memorial as if it belonged to them.
Having survived Normandy, Anzio, and Guadalcanal, these war heroes weren’t going to be turned aside by petty bureaucrats and temporary barricades. The Battle of the Monuments was the most visible and most ridiculous example of the Obama administration’s attempts to dramatize the impact of the shutdown. To be sure, suspending vital programs is very bad news for a lot of people, but that doesn’t play on television as well as a closed sign outside an iconic landmark.
The National Park Service, according to former interior secretary Gale Norton “has a long history of dramatizing budget issues by inconveniencing the public,” but it outdid itself last week, blocking public access to places it doesn’t run. The park service closed the parking lots at privately-funded Mont Vernon, locked the toilets in the White Mountain National Forest and eventually wired shut the barricades at the World War II Memorial to anyone other than Honor Flight veterans. Thankfully, they didn’t have the time to airdrop tarps over Mount Rushmore or fill the Grand Canyon with packing peanuts.
This is the same administration that prodded federal agencies to play up the consequences of the dreaded sequester, which forced the entire federal government to scrap by on barely more money than they received the year before. If the Obama administration paid as much attention to running government as it did to closing it down, we might not owe $17 trillion.
Obama’s attempt to make the public suffer as much as possible for Washington’s failures reminds me of Richard Nixon’s directive to “Make the economy scream” in order to destabilize the government of Salvador Allende in Chile. The devolution of the secretive, paranoid and incompetent Obama administration into Nixon’s third term is almost complete.
A way out
Much like John Kerry stumbling through an exit to the Obama administration’s Syrian chemical weapons fiasco, John House Speaker John Boehner may have accidently fixed the appropriations process. As Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid refused to even consider a series of House bills, even those without the Obamacare defunding provision that sparked the showdown, Boehner starting pushing through a series of “mini-continuing resolutions” that funded popular programs like the Veterans Administration and the National Institutes of Health. Reid rejected these proposals as stunts and insisted on an all-or-nothing bill to reopen the entire American government.
Expect Reid is wrong. Discrete funding for each area of federal government isn’t a stunt. It’s the way it’s supposed to work. Each year, the president is supposed to submit a budget to Congress. The House and Senate then pass a budget authorizing broad limits on spending for each department. Congress then crafts 13 separate appropriations bills that actually spend the money. In the absence of appropriations bills, Congress can pass temporary continuing resolutions to keep the doors open while the final spending bills are approved.
The Obama administration has never submitted its budget on time. Reid went nearly four years without even bringing a budget up for a vote. And Congress has abandoned the traditional appropriations process, funding government through a series of omnibus continuing resolutions.
This perverse process prevents any real debate over budget priorities, forces members of Congress to make an up-or-down vote on all of federal spending and makes budget oversight impossible.
Losers and losers
Obama has publicly declared that he won’t negotiate with House Republican to end the shutdown, and a senior administration official told the Wall Street Journal that they didn’t really care how long the shutdown lasted because “we’re winning.”
No one is winning the shutdown. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is leading the parade of losers, having talked a faction of House Republicans into this doomed crusade. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte excoriated Cruz, both in a meeting of the GOP caucus and on the Senate floor. His insistence on tying funding for most federal programs to the defunding of Obamacare shifted the debate in Obama’s favor. Topic A was no longer the despised health care law and its glitchy rollout, but Congress’s failure to fund the government.
But neither Senate Democrats nor the White House are looking much better. The president’s crocodile tears over the shutdown are obvious, and no one is coming out of the fiasco with their approval ratings high.
Walking through the halls of the Senate last week, I felt the weight of frustration and bad faith. The Treasury says we’ll hit the debt limit by Oct. 17. And neither Reid, Obama, nor House Republicans in safe seats have much political incentive to budget.
(Grant Bosse is editor of New Hampshire Watchdog, an independent news site dedicated to New Hampshire public policy and a senior fellow at the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.)