Monday, September 30, 2013

Dear Congress, Please Behave Like Responsible Adults

I’ve heard a lot of talk about the government needing to operate like a household. Usually when people say this they mean that the government should balance its budget and spend within its limits the way a well-run household does. I’m not going to argue for or against that position right now although I will point out that many well-run households borrow money for various reasons. I borrowed money as a young woman for my education; my husband and I a few months ago borrowed quite a lot of money to purchase our house. There are obvious differences between a government and a home, but let’s go with the metaphor right now. There is a major point about a well-run household that I think people making this variation of a budget argument are missing.

Imagine a household in which the husband and wife disagree about the spending. She thinks he spends too much money while he feels that what he is buying is important and necessary (food, clothes, health insurance, etc…). That sounds pretty familiar to most of us, I would imagine. Now, what should this husband and wife do? Sit down and work it out, right? They should work together to come up with a spending plan that they can both accept. In order to do this they will need to compromise. She will have to allow more spending than she is comfortable with, perhaps, while he may have to forgo some of his purchases. In a well-run household the husband and wife will behave like adults, set aside their egos, demonstrate teamwork and focus on the well-being of the entire household and not their individual desires.

Imagine if the wife said to the husband: I hate your spending so I’m going to stop paying all our bills. I’m going to freeze our bank accounts and default on our credit card payments and mortgage payments. I won’t work with you on a budget unless you agree to stop buying food and health insurance for our kids. I don’t care that we’ll be hungry and homeless and that our credit will be ruined and that if the kids get sick we won’t be able to afford medical care. You have to do things my way. I hate your spending so much I’ll wreck this family rather than let you continue. What would you think?

You’d think she was crazy. You’d think her priorities were misplaced. You’d think that the cost of wrecking her family and their financial stability was far too high a price to pay for getting her way. You would be completely right. Which is why our government is completely wrong. Failure to pass a budget is a failure to do the job for which our congress was elected. Hinging the passing of a budget or the raising of a debt ceiling to one issue that does not have majority support is childish, like a three year old having a temper tantrum in an effort to force her parents to let her have her own way.

We need responsible government right now, which means congressmen and congresswomen who will sit down and make compromises, keeping as their priority the well-being of the entire nation. We need less focus on re-election and scoring political points and issues of ego and who’s in charge and more focus on getting the business of government done. The business of government is to do the things that are too big for us to do as individuals. Yes, that takes taxes. I’ll pay mine gladly in order to have good roads, police and fire departments, an education for my daughter, support for scientific research, a strong military, fair enforcement of laws and standards on businesses, health care for those who can’t afford it (because honestly, we’re paying for it one way or another), funding for the arts, safe air travel, a stable and inspected food supply, the rule of law instead of the rule of might, and all the other things government does for us. Things that let me go about my life with my family feeling secure and confident. That’s what it means to live in a well-run nation. That’s the nation I want to live in.

I’m sending letters to my representatives and my senators this morning. I think our congress needs to be reminded to do the job we elected it to do. If you agree with me that government needs to be managed responsibly, I encourage you to do the same. If you don’t know who your congressperson is, you can find him or her on this website and even send an email through the site Let’s remind our congress that government needs to be run by responsible adults.