Every Day Is Groundhog Day in Washington, DC

GroundhogThis Saturday, the people of Punxsutawney, PA, will anxiously gather to see whether a groundhog will, by the mere sight (or lack thereof) of his shadow, predict an extended winter or an early spring. Meanwhile, millions of classic movie lovers will recall the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray, in which his egocentric character is doomed to repeat February 2 day after day. He eventually decides to use the time provided by the endless cycle to evaluate his life and priorities, and he ultimately grows as a human being.

Just a couple hundred miles to the southeast in Washington, policymakers are living a real-life political version of the 1993 movie classic.

Rally, Delay, Repeat

Gridlock, caused by many years of partisan politics and political posturing, has caused important national decisions to be delayed over and over again. Consider efforts to restore the nation’s fiscal strength. In 2010, President Obama created a fiscal commission, commonly referred to Simpson-Bowles, to develop a deficit reduction plan. The commission developed a plan, but it failed to attract the 14 votes needed in the group to pass. Since then, we have faced government shutdowns and debt default a number of times, only to see the can kicked down the road – the crisis du jour temporarily averted.

Most recently, in late December Congress passed the American Tax Relief Act (ATRA), temporarily averting deep cuts to discretionary spending until March 1. Today, Congress is poised to increase the nation’s debt limit until mid-May, temporarily averting a debt-default crisis. The bill also includes an incentive for Congress to pass a budget resolution for the first time in several years.

Although the debt-ceiling crisis has been avoided for now, another crisis is just around the corner. Since Congress was unable to agree to FY 2013 spending bills, government programs have continued to operate under a temporary spending bill that expires on March 27. Unless Congress agrees to extend funding, government programs will shut down. In fact, some fiscal conservatives in Congress are calling for just that.

Will the Season of Uncertainty Continue?

More fiscal crises loom far beyond March 27— and as far as the eye can see, considering the current political landscape. Why? Because it makes great political theater and creates opportunities for parties to score points, perhaps just enough to win back or strengthen control of the House, Senate or the White House. Unfortunately, it also creates a great deal of uncertainty, slowing  economic growth and limiting investments in education and job training and other services that help keep our workforce vibrant and competitive.

In other words, what makes good politics all too often makes terrible public policy. I think American voters understand that, and that is why we have seen partisan power shift back and forth so much in the past 10-15 years.  And I think the trend will continue until policymakers are able to meaningfully demonstrate that that the solutions to our problems come from both sides of the aisle. What’s needed to end this political version of Groundhog Day is a restoration of order and civility to the political, policy-setting and budget-setting processes.

E pluribus unum: Out of many one. How do we get back to that? I wish I knew for sure. There was a time when I believed that a generation-defining and unifying event or leader would be the catalyst. But now, I think it’s at least as likely that order and civility will be restored over time through millions of small individual acts of constituent engagement that give our political parties the confidence and trust in one another to truly work together to address challenges and capitalize on opportunities.

Goodwill is engaged in efforts to inform members of Congress about how policies affect our efforts to help people find jobs, advance in careers, and build a more vibrant nation one community at a time. We continue to keep you informed through our Legislative Action Center about policy developments that affect Goodwill and hope you’ll use the portal to urge members of Congress to strengthen programs that leverage the Goodwill enterprise.