The painful shenanigans that played out on Capitol Hill during the past several weeks should not be excused as the messiness of the democratic process. Perhaps two simple dictionary definitions have been overlooked: democracy is government by the people, exercised directly or through elected representatives and rule by the majority; compromise is a settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions. Democracy is not a “winner take all” equation, but that seems to have been the approach of some Members of Congress who apparently do not understand, accept, or even care about, the serious responsibility of getting the people’s work done, while maintaining the integrity and gravitas of the nation. As a result, one of the most important aspects of governance, that of trust (defined as confidence in the integrity, ability, character, and truth of a person or thing) has been damaged seriously, at home and throughout the world.
While Senator Cruz and his Tea Party cronies preened for the television cameras, the real victims were those whose reliance on federal programs can be a life or death issue, individuals in our community who need that extra help to succeed like the rest of us. In Fairfax County, if the shutdown had been extended, nearly 4,000 babies and 10,000 children under the age of 5 would have lost WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) funding that provides infant formula and supplemental nutrition for our youngest and most vulnerable population. More than 4,500 families and individuals would have lost access to housing vouchers and rental subsidies in the county. It’s not a pretty picture. Perhaps the most important responsibility of elected officials at every level of government is to approve a budget – a thoughtful process that must be balanced and on time.
Budgets reflect the priorities of the community, whether a county or a country. In Fairfax County, our budget priorities include a quality educational system; safe streets and neighborhoods; a clean, sustainable environment; livable, caring, and affordable communities; a vibrant economy; an efficient transportation network; recreational and cultural opportunities; and taxes that are affordable. True, the county does not directly fund the armed forces, or Medicare, or Social Security, but the principle is the same. There is a process to be followed in order to carry out the responsibilities imputed by elections, and maintain a steady-as-she-goes approach to life’s challenges. It’s “roll up your sleeves” work, full of thoughtful and informed approaches as well as difficult decisions. It may look simple to the casual outside observer, but there’s usually a lot of “horse-trading” going on. However, in the past few years, it seems that the federal “horse” has been in danger of being shot, and dumped over the fiscal cliff.
While that tragedy was avoided last week, it is likely that we will face a similar stand-off early next year, unless the leadership on both sides of the aisle, and their followers, recognize that it’s not a good idea to teeter on the precipice. It’s way too easy to lose your balance.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.