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Walt Laws-MacDonald | Show Me The Money

A house divided

Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 12:02

Oh, the fiscal cliff? That thing Congress was totally going to take care of before the deadline, atoning for that time they said they were totally going to take care of the debt ceiling before the deadline. Guess what? No, don’t even guess, just assume: it didn’t happen on time. Thank you Republicans — I mean, Democrats — I mean, Obama — I mean ... Commies?
I understand why putting together a deal did not happen in the timeliest manner. I had preached for months that this was the most important political issue that our nation faced this year— and then two shocking tragedies struck the country, barely a month apart.

First, Hurricane Sandy destroyed thousands of homes along the East Coast, causing billions of dollars of damage and leaving entire neighborhoods with no place to live, just as temperatures began to drop below freezing for most of the Northeast.

With many families still reeling from the aftermath of Sandy, tragedy struck again — this time in an even more unthinkable, heartbreaking way. The country went into full crisis mode again, after a mentally-ill gunman murdered more than two dozen elementary school students and teachers in Newtown, Conn. The event moved President Obama to tears in his press conference, and, like all events of this kind, left the country asking how anyone could do such a thing, or more importantly, how we could allow such a thing to happen.

Suddenly — and, rightfully so — the fiscal cliff was no longer the most important issue Congress needed to work on. Sandy relief efforts, gun control, and mental health services jumped to the forefront of every politician’s mind. No one wants to be the one to say “Hey, I know millions of people are suffering right now, but can we talk about the economy for a sec?” And so, the fiscal cliff momentarily fell to the back of everyone’s mind.

And yet, despite the seemingly one-sided, unassailable arguments — the areas hit by Sandy need federal aid; we do not need assault rifles with 20-round magazines — Congress inevitably turned both issues into questions about party politics and what our founding fathers would say.

It seems that every issue in contemporary American politics has been polarized to the point that if you know where the Republicans stand, you can assume that the Democrats stand on exactly the opposite side — and vice-versa. Sandy relief is no longer about getting money to families in need, but about stopping reckless spending and “pork” money. Gun control is no longer about making our towns and cities safer, but rather Second Amendment rights and authoritarian government.

Let me set the record straight: Congress is spending too much, and tougher gun laws will not necessarily stop gun violence. But to look at these two horrific events, see the suffering they have caused, and then turn around and say, “Now we have some real power,” is truly ludicrous.

And that is why Congress cannot get anything done: they do not debate, they fight. The fiscal cliff, Sandy relief, and gun control talks produced such vitriolic comments from both sides of the aisle that I find it hard to believe Congress ever agrees on anything.

I want to trust Congress, because America is still great; indebted, pugnacious, and perhaps a little bit crazy, but great. But they must learn to think outside their party lines.

So if any of you Jumbos make it to the Hill — and I hope many of you do — do not pull this sort of crap. And maybe balance the budget while you’re there.

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Walt Laws-MacDonald is a sophomore majoring in quantitative economics. He can be reached at Walt.Laws_MacDonald@tufts.edu.

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