It seems as though someone plotting Republican strategy in Washington, D.C., is sketching out the same strategies on responding to the federal government shutdown as Gov. Dennis Daugaard this week.
Monday, for the third time in the last three years, Daugaard volunteered to have the State of South Dakota run a National Parks Service location (in this instance and in 2011, Mount Rushmore; in an offer earlier this year, Wind Cave). In the most recent offer, Daugaard proposed to staff Mount Rushmore with State of South Dakota employees and fund some of its operations from private donations to keep the National Monument partially open to the public rather than allowing George, Tom, Teddy, and Abe to be held hostage by a U.S. Congress dysfunctional enough to make the four great granite heads lower their faces in shame.
Now Daugaard's national Republican comrades are similarly seeking ways to keep non-essential, but very popular, portions of the federal government funded despite the lack of a continuing resolution on the overall federal budget. Here are three reasons this whole new world of budget madness in response to a legitimate crisis needs to stop:
- There are bigger jobs to do than piecemeal appropriations. — Ideas for how to keep individual portions of the federal government open are treating the symptoms of a diseased situation rather than the disease itself. The consequences of the government shutdown are best dealt with by buckling down and solving the budget impasse, not by finding, focusing on, and "fixing" whatever shiny distraction presents itself in the form of a worthwhile program kept from doing what it was designed to do.
Cliché yet appropriate analogy: Republicans in Congress proposing piecemeal spending initiatives are trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. Further, they're doing so while ignoring their responsibility to work on saving the ship. Yet further, they're the ones who set the course for the iceberg in the first place.
- Piecemeal appropriations set up even more battles than we already have. — Starting a conversation about what important-but-already-deemed-non-essential items are popular enough that they should really get funding during a shutdown not only shirks the actual job at hand; it actively creates distractions. It starts with veterans' benefits or national parks; then it becomes the Navy-Air Force football game or the Fish and Wildlife Service. Every single advocate can get into the game and, hard as it may be to believe, make things move even more slowly and uselessly than they already are. And, just in case you think I'm making this argument up, David Montgomery at Political Smokeout digs through coverage of the 1995 shutdown to find the Department of Interior itself espousing this rationale.
Cliché yet appropriate analogy: In keeping with the Ted Cruz bedtime story meme from last week, go (re)read "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie." If we figure out a way to keep one project or process or park open, expect every other project, process, or park to end up on the desk of some Congressional supporter asking to be the next special appropriation.
- Piecemeal appropriations should not be how government budgeting works. — Federal taxes are not a designated levy or a directed donation. We as taxpayers (and, in turn, our elected representatives) don't get to only fund the parts of the government we really, really like. Cherry-picking the popular programs for salvation from sequestration or a shut-down sets up a flawed impression of the role of the government in our lives. If the public gets the impression from piecemeal appropriations that the things we like run just fine in a "shutdown," we lose even more of the necessary political will to solve the actual functional problems at hand.
Cliché yet appropriate analogy: Granting piecemeal appropriations is like letting a little kid eat only the dessert at the dinner table. The kid gets what he or she likes but doesn't get the basic, if unexciting, nutrients he or she needs for complete health. Fully funding the federal government instead of piecemeal appropriations isn't just making the country eat its peas; it's ensuring that there's a meal on the table in the first place.
I agree with Political Smokeout that Dennis Daugaard's offer is a sincere and sensible, if politically expedient, one. But a national approach needs to think bigger than the South Dakota governor. It needs to tackle the systemic issues, not just come up with a way to keep National Park tourists or other vocal victims happy.