The United States Constitution requires Congress to authorize the government to spend money. Under the Anti-Deficiency Act, it can be a felony to spend taxpayer money without such congressional authorization. Since the new fiscal year begins today, a bill to fund the government had to be passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president by midnight.
The House passed their version, which delays implementation of the Affordable Care Act by a year and repeals a 2.3 percent medical devices tax that would help pay for the health care law. The Democratic majority in the Senate rejected both provisions, so it sent the spending bill back to the House without them. Since neither side would compromise, the government has “shut down” and the president has authority to fund those parts of the government he considers “essential.” As a result, the state-run health exchanges that are a part of ObamaCare begin this morning despite Republican action and opposition.
There have been 17 such shutdowns since 1977, but none before then. Why? Part of the blame lies with a legal reinterpretation issued by the attorney general in April 1980. But the larger issue is cultural more than it is political. There was a day when our society affirmed a basic moral consensus and expected our political leaders to reflect and advance this consensus for the common good. Compromise by both parties was an essential part of the process. Today we have no such moral foundation, so each party (or group within the parties) is left to legislate its own version of reality, using any political means at its disposal. Government is broken because the society that elects it is broken.
It wasn’t always this way. When newly-elected President Reagan needed support from the Democratic majority in the House to raise the debt ceiling, he reached out to Speaker Tip O’Neill. O’Neill’s request: that the president write a personal note to each and every Democratic member of the House asking for his or her support. This note would protect the member from future allegations of profligate spending. The requested letters arrived the next day—all 243 of them.
George Bernard Shaw claimed that “democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” Before we deserve leaders who can govern from a moral consensus, we must achieve that consensus ourselves. The process starts with you and me. Are we praying daily for the moral and spiritual awakening we need, beginning with us? Do we seek our personal agendas or God’s best for our lives and nation?
If you stood a group of people around the walls of a room and asked them to become unified, confusion would likely result. But imagine that you set a chair in the center of the room and asked them to walk toward it—the closer they came to the chair, the closer they would come to each other.
What if that chair were a throne, and God were on it?