If we have learned nothing else from this ill-conceived federal shutdown, we should have learned that a swell of political fervor, once unleashed, can be impossible to control. Once a partisan minority threatens to derail what ought to be the routine operations of government, in order to extract political concessions -- even if they have no intention of making good on their threat -- it can be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to pull themselves, and the rest of us, back from the precipice.
Right now, as a nation, we are at the precipice -- in a government shutdown, and on the verge of defaulting on our nation's debt obligations -- most of us unwillingly dragged into this unnecessary political showdown that is causing incredible harm to our nation.
With a government shutdown, it is not just the military personnel and federal workers and their families who lose paychecks, but also small businesses and government contractors who lose work, and communities that are denied essential funding and services, as well as veterans, seniors, and military families who suffer the consequences. It even undercuts critical government functions such as health and safety inspections in our coal mines, our industrial facilities, our food chain, and so much more. The longer the shutdown lasts, the worse the harm that is inflicted.
As with the government shutdown, the consequences of the government defaulting on its debt obligations would not be felt all at once. They would, instead, get progressively more painful as time goes on.
Unless the debt ceiling is raised, soon after Thursday, the U.S. Treasury will not be able to borrow the money it needs to make the payments it owes -- to Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries and veterans, to government contractors and small businesses, and to the bondholders of our nation's debt -- precipitating an economic crisis not unlike what our nation endured in 2008.
As the crisis drags on, day by day, consumer and business confidence will fall, and the financial markets will become more and more stressed. Stock prices will plummet, wiping away retirement and personal savings. Interest rates will soar, both for businesses and consumers, raising mortgage and borrowing costs. And business investment will contract, creating a destructive cycle that increases unemployment.
It is a dangerous game that some members of Congress are playing, completely at odds with the Constitutional oath to which every member has sworn to ensure a properly functioning federal government that can competently perform the essential services citizens have a right to expect. It is completely at odds with the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, requiring the elected representatives of the people to ensure "the validity of the public debt of the United States."
Since the government shutdown began, the House of Representatives has not passed any legislation to fund the government in total. Instead, it has passed piecemeal bills, haphazardly funding this agency or that -- all designed to score political points and cover political backsides.
The folly of the current piecemeal approach to funding the government has been on full display this past week. Prior to the shutdown, Congress passed legislation to ensure our active-duty troops would be paid, but left the rest of the budget for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs by the wayside. Unfortunately, the architects of this clever political maneuver failed to anticipate death benefits for military families. As a result, the House had to pass a separate bill, but not until after several grief-stricken military families learned that they would not receive survivors benefits during the shutdown -- exposing the void left by legislation crafted to solve a short-term political problem rather than to address a real long-term need.
And, when another disruption in government services occurs, the House will be forced to pass another bill, and then another bill, on and on. The House wastes its time passing these incomplete, inadequate measures, while the clear and obvious and inevitable course of passing legislation to reopen the government and adjust the debt limit remains squarely and unmistakably before us.
Incredibly, some members are proclaiming their opposition to this government shutdown, while voting, time and again, for legislation to attach controversial provisions to bills that would ensure the shutdown lasts longer.
We must forgo this suicidal strategy of threatening to abdicate our nation's debt obligations.
I am hopeful that recently announced progress in finding a way to address the debt limit and shutdown yields legislation that finds its way to the House floor quickly, and that all parties do more than just talk about pulling themselves and the rest of us back from the fiscal precipice. Legitimate actions must follow words.
Rahall represents West Virginia's 3rd Congressional District.