Viewers of televised news programs late Monday evening were treated to countdowns befitting New Year's Eve. The clocks hit zero at midnight, as Congress could not fashion even a temporary bill to finance the federal government, and a partial shutdown went into effect. No celebrations took place, but the finger-pointing began in earnest.
The vast majority of Americans awoke Tuesday morning and could perceive no difference. Shutting down the government actually is a slow process, with all sorts of exceptions for essential personnel and programs.
Of course, there was nothing slow about the process in the eyes of 800,000-plus federal workers who already have begun unpaid furloughs or are working with their pay suspended.
Thousands of employees at Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth are staying home until a new spending bill is approved. Seven hundred full-time military personnel working at the Kansas adjutant general's department will be idled. Weekend drills for the Kansas National Guard could be called off. FAA engineers working in Wichita's critical aviation sector punched out, as did many at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Kansas.
National parks and historic sites have closed, including the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka. NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency are virtually staffless, as is the IRS -- although anybody whose filing deadline was extended to Oct. 15 will have no reprieve. Homebuyers seeking government-backed loans will have to wait.
Still, critical functions such as the military, Post Office and Social Security offices are still open for business. Almost perversely ironic is the health insurances exchanges opened at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, right on schedule. Even though the Affordable Care Act was passed more than three years ago, there remain enough lawmakers still fighting its implementation. And they thought shutting the government down was a great way to make their point.
"People are going to realize they can live with a lot less government," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.
She's probably correct, but any downsizing should be accomplished through deliberation -- not knee-jerk reactions and crisis management. Unfortunately, the latter is precisely what our nation's top elected officials appear to be resigned. Members of Congress can afford it; their salaries, health benefits and other perks of the job are not threatened.
It's just the little people, who these leaders supposedly represent, who will suffer from what Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., calls "conduct unbefitting a responsible Congress." The same little people already feeling the effects of the sequestration cuts created by the meltdown in Washington.
Capitol Hill has been hijacked by the tea party. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is reluctant to stand in the way of the extremely vocal minority faction. He's seen too many colleagues unable to withstand primary battles from the far right in the last two elections. And he apparently wants to keep his job, regardless of what happens to the American people.
There are a number of Republicans who, like all of the Democrats, realize Obamacare is here and won't be stopped. Shutting down the government won't stop millions of uninsured Americans from finally getting coverage. Threatening the nation's first default by not raising the debt ceiling in a couple of weeks won't affect the ACA; its funding is not subject to the whims of Congress.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., understands it. "We can't win," he said.
Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Vir., understands it. "We fought the good fight. Time for a clean CR," he tweeted.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., understands it. He called the shutdown "a big mistake."
Our own Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., doesn't understand it. One of the first to sign up for the Senate Tea Party Caucus, Moran is still blaming Democrats and President Barack Obama.
"I am anxious for this impasse to come to an end, and I will continue to do everything I can to make certain Kansans' voices are heard in Washington," Moran said.
Our Kansas voice demands an end to the ridiculous impasse. The tea party-imposed shutdown is an empty bluff.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry