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American credibility at home

Sandman's Musing | Monday, September 23, 2013

There’s a reason why they don’t let writers run the U.S. State Department.
Thinking all diplomatic options had been exhausted, I argued two weeks ago that the U.S. had no choice but to intervene in the crisis in Syria with missile strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime (“Action and clarity needed on Syria,” Sept. 9). I said it was the lesser of a multitude of bad options. Without making an intervention, America’s credibility as a world leader would be seriously weakened.
Just a few hours after my column had been emailed off to my editor, the news broke that the U.S. had agreed with Russia on a plan to rid Syria of its chemical weapons and avert an immediate U.S. strike.
If you read that column, it should come as no surprise that I was relieved diplomacy had won out over military action.
Still, while the U.S. has found an alternative to missile strikes in Syria, the original issue of its credibility on the world’s stage remains as great of a test as ever. And this week, as Congressional Republicans and Democrats debate on increasing the debt limit and flirt with a possible government shutdown, we see another critical component of that test.
So far neither side has budged. There are still eight days left to come to a compromise on the debt limit and avert a government shutdown, an eternity in the context of Washington theatre.
Some Republicans are determined to defund the Affordable Care Act and ultimately move forward with legislation to delay the implementation of Obamacare for one year in exchange for raising the debt limit for the next year. Democrats are so far unwilling to concede on either the defunding or delayed implementation of the health care law.
By now the politics of the debate are well-known. Republicans say the Affordable Care Act is a costly and unpopular law. Perhaps they’re right about this. Democrats say the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land and an attempt to sabotage the budget by insisting on defunding or delaying the law is both irresponsible and impossible. Perhaps they’re right as well.
What neither side takes into proper consideration are the wider implications of a shutdown.
Yes, the stock market will take a nasty hit. Yes, Americans will bear witness to another example of a broken government. This much is obvious.
But what does it say about a country that is the active leader in international relations, yet its leaders at home are unable to execute on the fundamental issues of government?
Against the backdrop of instability abroad, America now faces a critical test of its credibility at home.
It’s time for moderate, responsible leaders to take over in Washington and pass the test. Both parties share this responsibility, but on the current budget fight, I’m looking for leaders to rise up in the Republican Party.
The problem so far is that moderate Republican voices have not been as audible or convincing as those of extremists like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex. and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who are calling for a government shutdown unless a continuing resolution is passed that cuts off funding for the Affordable Care Act.
Responsible Republican senators such as Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn. and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. have laid out the issue clearly. They are no less opposed to Obamacare than are Republicans calling for its immediate defunding. But when your party only controls one-third of the federally-elected government (as Republicans do with the House), your party is not going to get everything it wants.
A government shutdown on Oct. 1 is too high of a cost to pay for trying (and inevitably failing) to repeal the law now. Fund the government now, moderate Republicans say, and go to work on repealing the specific, problematic provisions of the Affordable Care Act over the next couple years, a strategy that begins by gaining Republican seats in Congress in 2014.
This is party leadership. This is what needs to be done now to maintain America’s credibility in the eyes of the world, not to mention the credibility of the Republican Party.
Extremism does not result in effective government. It never has and it never will. In the end, it will only damage America’s credibility even further.
My hope now is that it doesn’t take a government shutdown for some lawmakers to realize this.

John Sandberg  is a senior living in Fisher Hall. He can be reached at jsandbe1@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.