Congress has an opportunity

As the partial shutdown of the federal government drags on, we’ve had a chance to see just how much reach government has into our lives. In some ways, the shutdown has had little effect on how we go about our day to day business. Yet in other ways, the impact has been dramatic — preventing some people from even going about their business at all.

If and when the closed government agencies re-open, and with a budget-conscious nation in mind, we’d like to see Congress and the administration take a good hard look at which job functions are truly essential, and which ones we haven’t missed over the past two weeks. For some, the answer will be that all government agencies serve an important role. For others, the answer will be to shut them all down. We suspect a solution lies somewhere in between.

For example, maybe operation of national parks should be outsourced to states. Certainly, a number of states have jumped at the opportunity this week — though it would seem that paying the federal government to do the job for it isn’t the ideal approach.

On the other hand, having officials from the Centers for Disease Control available to monitor an outbreak of food-borne illness would rank high on the list of government functions important to public safety.

The list goes on, but the question is the same: Where government intersects our lives, does it serve a necessary purpose?

If the answer isn’t yes, if it’s just more paperwork, then maybe it’s time for some cuts.

Where the answer to that question is yes, then our government needs to live up to its responsibilities — which means the people we’ve elected to it need to live up to theirs. Congress has made numerous attempts to get the deficit under control — anyone remember the Supercommittee or the Simpson-Bowles plan? — but has yet to find the political will to enact anything. Indeed, spending cuts made through sequestration were the self-imposed consequences of Congress’ failure to act.

Every obstacle in life is also an opportunity — and Congress has built itself a mountain to overcome. However, there’s still a few more months before 2014 election campaigns ramp up. If members of Congress can find a way to work together in the coming weeks, perhaps something good can come of the current mess we’re in.

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