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Inside the Beltway: So now what after votes on shutdown?
The agreement on the shutdown and the debt ceiling is no guarantee that lawmakers and the White House will behave. They are addicted to spectacle and hand-wringing political theater that garners press coverage, while masking inactivity or indecision. Once, such incivility and posturing was more of a bad habit or occasional embellishment, not the norm. Consider that in 1999, a contentious U.S. House actually opted to go on a series of bipartisan retreats to remedy their discord. The press deemed these events “civility retreats,” dutifully chronicling the attempts to iron out differences and seek productive protocols.
“At the weekend-long civility retreats in Hershey, Pa., over 200 members of the House of Representatives developed a comprehensive, detailed portrait of what wasn’t working on Capitol Hill and what needed to be done to fix it,” Mark Gerzon — the mediation consultant who actually designed those retreats — tells Inside the Beltway.
Fragile victories were short-lived, though.
“However, once they returned to Washington, party leaders made sure that nothing changed. They did not want anything to stop them from playing the partisan game the old way,” Mr. Gerzon says.
“Up to a point, the blame game can be a winning strategy at election time. The problem is that election time now never ends. It used to be that politicians played by slash-and-burn election rules for a few months before November every other year. Now they play by the those rules all the time. There is almost no governing anymore. It is all electioneering,” he says.
“So the incivility, dishonesty, and character attacks that once were a bad habit during campaign season have become a way of life,” Mr. Gerzon says.
THE PRICE OF THE POSTURING
“Political leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue need to stop undermining consumer confidence with partisan posturing,” points out Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, in the uneasy wake of the aforementioned agreement.
“When consumers cut back their spending, it threatens jobs in every industry. If it’s bad for retail, it’s bad for the economy, and ultimately the biggest losers are American taxpayers.”
The agreement offers “breathing room,” says Mr. Shay, but no long-term solution. A certain South Carolina Republican agrees.
“There is a process in place for establishing a budget and appropriating dollars each year, and unfortunately that framework has simply been ignored for years now,” Sen. Tim Scott says.
“Instead, patchwork, crisis-to-crisis government has taken over, ensuring duplicative and wasteful programs do not receive the scrutiny they deserve. How can we possibly hope to restore some fiscal sanity to our nation when we continue to simply extend every program?”
MOVING RIGHT ALONG
“The ugliness of the GOP schism will probably have a long half-life, as various parties feel the need to point fingers and shout ‘I didn’t do it.’ But if at all possible, I think conservatives and Republicans would be well-served by putting these disagreements behind us, like family fights at a Thanksgiving table that are best forgotten,” advises syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg.
“If this were a very special episode of a 1980s TV show, we could resolve all of this with a simple break-dancing competition. But as that is not a viable option at this juncture; neither is any other emotionally or intellectually satisfying settlement to this argument,” he adds.
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