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By Martha Robertson

The looming government shutdown shows how dysfunctional Congress has become. House Republicans bowed to tea party extremists and passed a bill that holds the operating budget of the entire federal government hostage to defunding the Affordable Care Act. That means, after Monday, Congress will have failed to carry out its basic constitutional responsibility: providing the money to run the government.

Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, joined the extremists and voted for gridlock – a reckless action that threatens our fragile economic recovery. Worse yet, Reed and the tea party Republicans’ next gambit is to refuse to raise the debt ceiling by mid-October, thus failing to pay the bills they’ve already approved. That threatens Social Security checks, Medicare payments and veterans benefits, to name just a few disruptions, and could prompt a severe recession, prominent economists warn.

Unfortunately, Reed and Congress have something in common: They don’t like to pay their bills. Reed’s trivializing attitude about the ramifications of a shutdown and the government running out of money are eerily similar to his failure to pay his own property taxes on time – 38 times in the last eight years.

Economists warn that the damage from not raising the debt ceiling will be far worse than a government shutdown. The last time Congress played this game – in July 2011 – the economy stalled and the nation’s credit rating was damaged for the first time in history. Nevertheless, House Republicans have signaled they will hold the debt ceiling hostage, along with government funding.

This dysfunction is unacceptable. We should not have to wonder whether the country will meet its responsibilities, pay its bills and provide critical government services.

Having served on the Tompkins County Legislature for the past 12 years, as chairwoman with bipartisan support for the last four years, I know that approach does not work. What does? Reasonable debate, putting public interests before partisan politics, and reaching across the aisle to get things done. That’s what we’ve done in Tompkins County, where we’ve passed all of the last 12 budgets on time and always met our responsibilities, and where we also have the lowest unemployment and highest job growth rates in New York State.

These dangerous fights about what we can’t accomplish are all we get out of this Congress, instead of what we do need, such as a jobs bill, economic development initiatives and investment in education and infrastructure. It’s time for new leadership in Washington – people who know how to work together for the good of the people. It’s time for leaders who want to get things done, not get things stopped.

Martha Robertson, a Democrat, is a candidate for the 23rd Congressional District.