A call for democracy in a House divided

Using the old playbook, the GOP was ready to cast blame, initiating a full court press against Democratic congressional members, accusing them of not caring about veterans and military families, and being weak on national security, hoping the president would bear the brunt of their attacks.

What came next were a dozen or so Tea Party members staging a press conference in front of the WWII Memorial, with Rep. Steve King (R-IA) claiming “this was a spiteful decision ordered by the White House to keep veterans from being able to visit the memorial.”

ADVERTISEMENT
What I find so outrageous is that King and his Tea Party companions, who have vowed to camp out in front of the memorial every day until it re-opens, are the same party responsible for the memorial’s closure and voted to shut down the federal government.

It seems that the Tea Party members will continue a tradition embraced by too many politicians in Congress: wringing their hands of a problem rather than rolling up their sleeves and fixing it. Kicking the can down the road and holding the American people hostage while the GOP tries to unsuccessfully defund the Affordable Care Act isn’t the solution. This is not democratic governance. This is extortion, plain and simple. These actions have consequences that will only continue to hurt our economy and national security.

Defense Secretary Hagel has stressed that a government shutdown will exacerbate the already devastating effects of sequestration. Already, sequestration—the across-the-board budget cuts imposed by Congress—is harming national security. It is shrinking the military to the smallest ground force since before World War II, the smallest Navy since before World War I, and the smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.

Further reductions will put our military and national security at risk, undermining our ability to meet national security objectives and generating significant operational risks. This means delayed response time to crises, conflicts and disasters and less training for troops—threatening overall operational readiness. And even though military service men and women are still reporting for duty, they now have the added burden of performing not only their work share, but that of their civilian counterparts. This is unacceptable.

National security is a team effort. Without their civilian counterparts, our military is less aware of threats—and slower to respond to them. Given the complex tasks our service members are asked to execute every day, America cannot afford to have their focus be anything other than 100 percent.

The actions taken by Congress are not only harming innocent government employees and damaging the nation, but they are also dishonoring the very spirit of their oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

Our Founding Fathers—like Washington and Jefferson—were strong advocates of “republican” values, which require leaders to put civic duty ahead of their personal desires. These men had a duty to be prepared and willing to fight for the rights and liberties of their country men and women. As John Adams wrote in 1776, "There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, honor, power, and glory, established in the minds of the people, or there can be no Republican government, nor any real liberty. And this public passion must be superior to all private passions.”

These men were not only responsible for founding this great country, but for uniting these states of America.

Our future as the nation with the strongest military and economy is too important to be held hostage by a radical Tea Party minority. For the sake of our security and global standing, Congress should not only do its job and reopen the federal government, but also spare the nation from a devastating default. Our democracy is at stake.

Watkins is a partner at the Truman National Security Project and former Obama administration appointee assigned to the Pentagon.