Conventional wisdom in Washington is that our nation’s government was shut down by a group of uncompromising tea party extremists. While this is demonstrably untrue – the House of Representatives has now compromised on its position twice while Senate Democrats have refused to budge an inch – it masks a more important debate. That debate is over what type of democracy we want to live in: A real one or one on auto-pilot.
Official Washington regularly casts scorn on the “brinksmanship” that has characterized our nation’s fiscal debates for the last three years. There has been brinksmanship in recent years, but it’s only offensive if you wish to place our nation on perpetual cruise control.
Government on auto-pilot suppresses public opinion. It means Congress gets to tinker around the edges, but has few opportunities to change course. It is a radical change to our democracy, and fortunately not the nation we live in.
The Constitution grants the House of Representatives the power of the purse, and Congress has chosen to impose a statutory debt ceiling on itself. If these are extreme or irresponsible ideas then they should be altered, not simply ignored.
The President lectures Congress that “you don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job.” This misunderstands our government on every level. Congress’s job is, indeed, to fund the operations of government. But it’s a mistake to view the appropriations process as a rubber stamp on government. Rather, it is a vital part of our nation’s separation of powers.