Who’s in charge here? Shutdown looms but GOP bows to Democrats.
© Getty

Once again, Congress finds itself with less than a week to strike a deal to fund the government. Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

Though they’ve known about this timeline since the last government funding deadline in December, Congress has done very little to prepare. Indeed, with only days to go, congressional leaders haven’t released the details of any spending deal — much less the legislative text, or even the form that this spending vehicle will take.

Will it be a continuing resolution? An omnibus? A cromnibus? It’s still a giant mystery.

ADVERTISEMENT
One thing we do know for certain — any bill that will fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year will be several thousand pages long and take days for members and staff to read and fully understand. Apparently, House and Senate leaders don’t plan on many members reading this deal before casting their votes, however, because the days to deadline continue to pass with nary a peep of what the leadership intends.

 

When it comes to spending deals, the old boss is the same as the new boss. Thousand-page bills, crafted behind closed doors and dropped on members at the last minute, so that any objection or request to amend is seen as a threat to the solvency of government? Yes, we’ve been here before.

Republican leadership, like the Democratic leaders before them, know how to play this game. The threat of a shutdown looms large in the minds of members, and is usually enough to cudgel them into submission. No one wants to be responsible for keeping veterans from the World War II memorials, right?

In reality, of course, most Americans notice little difference in their lives during a government shutdown.  That’s because very little shuts down, and what does shut down is out of service only temporarily.

All essential functions of government continue during a “shutdown”—for months on end. And there’s no reason why open-air monuments that are not regularly staffed, like the World War II memorial, can’t remain accessible to the public indefinitely.

A shutdown, like everything else in Washington, is a highly-staged event.

While the possibility of a shutdown may get the most hype, it is the missed opportunity of Republicans to start reforming the nation’s debt that should grab the attention of voters.

In the fourth month of unified government, Republicans are waiting until the very last minute to debate their spending priorities. Instead of using this window to address critical spending reforms — absolutely necessary in a country that is $20 trillion in debt — Republicans are instead squandering their capital on Democratic demands.

Winning an election that vaulted them into power has apparently not changed the default mode of many Republicans: to acquiesce to Democrats like they’re still in charge.

While the Democrats bemoan the “high stakes” and “calamity” of a possible shut-down, where are Republicans touting the high stakes of our debt; the calamity of our current fiscal condition?

In 2015, the national debt exceeded 100 percent of everything the economy produced in goods and services. The U.S. is now officially spending beyond the means our economy creates. This is a terrible portent for continued economic growth, as countries with debt-to-gross domestic product ratios above 90 percent experience significant economic reductions. If our debt continues to grow unchecked, it could drop the U.S. growth rate by as much as two-thirds.

This — not the manufactured drama of a possible shut-down — is what should be motivating Republican lawmakers. Rather than cutting deals that do nothing to change the trajectory of our dire fiscal state, Republicans should be drafting legislation that gets our debt under control, improves our economic condition, and which shows their commitment to governing a country in a fiscally responsible way.

Republicans ran on the promises of reforming the way business is done in Washington. And yet, here they are, mere hours away from a government funding deadline, and they haven’t even circulated a plan, much less proposed the transformative ideas expected of a party in power.

If Republicans can’t even use this opportunity to make reforms at the discretionary, programmatic level — just a small percentage of government spending — how will they ever muster the fortitude to take on the true drivers of our debt?

Republicans were elected with a mandate from voters to shake up the system, change how business was done in Washington — to drain the swamp, some might say.

And yet, in the case of spending, the swamp is winning.

When it comes to this government funding deadline, it’s not the shut-down voters should fear. It’s the lack of will on behalf of the governing party to make any changes at all to the dire fiscal state of the country.

Jim DeMint is a former U.S. Senator from South Carolina and the president of The Heritage Foundation.


The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.