Friday, October 4, 2013

People Matter: Government is About the Responsible Use of Power

People Matter: 
Government is About the Responsible Use of Power
A Statement by the Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, II

The shut down of the federal government has gone on long enough.  Too many lives are impacted by this selfish internal battle for power. The United States government has an important role in alleviating hunger and poverty, ensuring food safety and public health, investing in clinical trials and research, monitoring pollution and the safety of the environment, engaging in diplomacy and relief and development operations overseas, and employing the nation’s largest workforceIt is time to put the federal government back to work to ensure health, wholeness, and fulfilling livelihoods, not only for federal workers, but for all of us.

The government shutdown is causing real pain in the lives of people – already Head Start programs are shutting down, women and children are losing or are about to lose WIC nutrition benefits, VA reimbursements are being delayed, families who have been saving for years for their vacation to a national park or historic landmarks like Washington, DC, or the Statue of Liberty are suffering disappointment and lost savings, and 800,000 federal workers are stuck at home with an unexpected furlough.  I am appalled to witness young people on field trips to the nation’s capital who are unable to learn from the history of our nation’s past, because our monuments and historic sites are closed. The money raised to travel and expectations of witnessing our government at work are now diminished for these future leaders.  The many and varied missions of the government that are shuttered, many of which we are not even aware are federally funded, are important for our lives together as a community. 

It is a distortion of our democracy and the foundations of our political process when a small faction of one political party can take the nation hostage in order to accomplish their policy ends. We are witnessing a selfishness of governance that was not intended by the founders of our nation. The genius of our political system is that it is built on the principles of compromise, partnership, and commitment to serving the common good.  Members of Congress must end this crisis by enacting a clean spending bill – not a piecemeal approach that will leave many programs shuttered –  and unencumbered by partisan policy priorities. Likewise, the debt ceiling should be raised as has been done by Congress during other Presidential administrations, both Democrat and Republican, on numerous occasions before now.  Congress has an obligation to continue making payments on the spending they previously authorized. There is no good reason that Congress should bring us the brink of financial ruin. 

When I came to Washington in May, 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also know as Obamacare, had ready received congressional approval two months before. Why are we still debating this landmark legislation? The ACA is already providing coverage to about three million young adults who can now stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26; ensuring improved equity in health coverage by prohibiting discrimination based on pre-existing conditions and gender; and making preventative care an affordable cornerstone of our health system, rather than an expensive afterthought.  And as of this week, the new marketplaces where people can go to purchase affordable, high-quality health coverage are open and millions of people are already taking advantage of this new opportunity. Defunding or delaying Obamacare will only deny this important coverage to millions of people who want and need it.  Not to mention that re-litigating a policy decision is completely inappropriate in the context of a short-term spending bill.

Members of Congress must give up this misguided foray into political brinksmanship.  They must open the government immediately so that people will receive the services and benefits on which they rely. It is time for federal workers to go back to their jobs, so that the services needed in this nation can continue. We need a government that functions based on a commitment to shared responsibility and the common good. Those who have contempt for government have no business serving as a Member of Congress.  It is contrary to the oath of office.  Join me in calling on Congress to end this shutdown and engage in more reasonable debate in which people’s wellbeing is at the center of our concern.