The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

September 24, 2013

Postcards from the edge: Dysfunction junction strikes again

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News & Eagle

— There is a quote, attributed to Albert Einstein, that seems particularly applicable when you consider the news coming out of Washington these days.

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Once again Congress finds itself at loggerheads with the president and threatening to shut down the government. Once again, Congress is proving that the Capitol sits not at the corner of East Capitol Street Northeast and First, but rather at Dysfunction Junction.

We have seen this movie before. It is a familiar plot. Congress and the president bicker and banter, hurling threats and criticism, as the deadline for a shutdown nears. There are angry speeches and finger-pointing press conferences. Blame rains down like fall leaves. Finally, at the 11th hour, a temporary funding compromise is cobbled together and the day is saved — at least for a few weeks until the brinksmanship begins again. There are more sequels to this movie than “Die Hard.”

This time, one of the sticking points is the Affordable Care Act. Last week, the House passed a spending plan that cut all funding for the ACA. That measure will go to the Senate this week, where it is expected to fail.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats are then expected to strip the Affordable Care Act de-funding out of the spending bill and send it back to the house. Then both houses will be fighting the Oct. 1 deadline to get something passed and avoid the shutdown, prospects for which are even less popular than the Affordable Care Act.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, in fact, vows to speak out against the Affordable Care Act until he’s “no longer able to stand,” a condition which could be treated under the ACA. Of course, senators and representatives have government health insurance, so they don’t have to worry.

But Republicans are seeking other spending cuts in any new agreement, like increased premiums for upper-income Medicare beneficiaries, higher pension contributions for government workers, limits on medical malpractice verdicts and lower payments to hospitals that treat more poor people than the average.

Should the shutdown occur, there would be widespread consequences.

Our men and women in uniform, including those serving at Vance Air Force Base, wouldn’t be paid during the shutdown. They would receive IOUs, but you can neither spend nor eat those. Well, you can eat them, but they taste crummy and have zero nutritional value.

Of course, one group of federal employees would continue to be paid — members of Congress.

If there is a shutdown and you want a gun permit, it won’t happen until a new funding bill is passed. You wouldn’t be able to get a federal loan, either. And forget about having your passport application processed.

Federal employees not deemed to work in “critical services” would get some time off without pay, though they would be paid retroactively once the shutdown was over.

All national parks, zoos and museums would be closed. Applications for passports would go unprocessed.

Taxes would continue to be collected, however, and the post office would continue delivering bills and junk mail. Oh, and the Affordable Care Act? Its implementation would not be affected by the shutdown.

And once again, we would look stupid to the world. The nation that is the most powerful on earth and the one with the largest economy can’t figure out how to maintain the flow of cash necessary to grease the wheels of government.

This country has operated without a budget since 2009. That means we’ve been riding this roller-coaster for the past four years.

We have leapt from the shutdown precipice twice before, in late 1995 and early 1996, costing the country $1.4 billion.

So we elect these men and women to go to Washington to represent our interests, and all they do is fight and scrap and play politics while the government teeters on the brink of running out of money. They keep doing it, and we keep re-electing them, and they don’t change, which is Einstein’s very definition of insanity.

So the question looms, who are the insane ones, them or us?

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at