Newspaper article

Shutdown Represents a Failure to Put the Country First

Newspaper article

Shutdown Represents a Failure to Put the Country First

Article excerpt

The last time the U.S. federal government shut down, in 1995, I was a senior officer in our embassy in Warsaw. Because of the deadlock in Washington, we were unable to pay our Polish employees, many of whom had worked for us even in the dark days of the Cold War, when any association with what communist authorities considered a "hostile embassy" posed serious risks for Polish staffers and their families.

Because our government could not meet its obligations, American officers chipped in their own funds for loans to help our Polish colleagues make ends meet until the contending sides finally came together in Washington and the manufactured crisis passed. The episode was a "low dishonest" moment, to borrow a phrase from W.H. Auden's poem, "Sept. 1, 1939," about the decade leading up to that day's Nazi invasion of Poland.

We're in another such dismal moment now as our federal government closes doors yet again. Those who hate our national government, or consider it the problem rather than part of the solution, may cheer this news and shed no tears for the million or so American civil servants who will lose their livelihood as a result. After all, the Tea Party has taught us that federal "bureaucrats" are the enemy, even though they are merely carrying out the laws and programs that Congress in its wisdom authorizes.

Widespread impact

The failure of Congress to pass a budget and raise our debt ceiling - to pay for the laws it enacts - will hurt individuals, institutions and our country in countless ways, large and small. Some we'll notice immediately - closure of our national parks, for example - while others will escape our attention until their effects come back to haunt us. How to calculate the impact of children going hungry, of new drugs being introduced without proper vetting, of banks unwatched by qualified regulators? Of roads, bridges, ports and other infrastructure allowed to decay?

Collateral damage from the spectacle in Washington will also include a growing reluctance of our most talented young men and women to enter public life. Who wants to serve in a Congress whose approval ratings are in the cellar or join a civil service where pay is frozen and vilification by politicians playing to the grandstand for cheap votes commonplace? …

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