After Debt Ceiling and Government Shutdown Fiasco, Lawmakers Must Focus on Adding Value

My son was seven when he laid off his pet parakeet for "not pulling his weight." The bird was pretty but didn't deliver tangible benefits like our laying hens, weed-eating rabbits, barn cat and guard dogs. The kid decided the bird's upkeep wasn't worth the empty show, so we found it a new home.

My kids know that Congress has just ended a costly and internationally humiliating 16-day impasse that included a complete government shutdown. They — along with most of the rest of us — wonder exactly how these lawmakers' actions create value for our country.

Cute but not especially productive. Photo: Dave Ginsberg

The government shutdown set us back at least $4.7 billion, according to ShutdownCost.com, and that's a very conservative number. It doesn't include the financial damage to the lives of furloughed workers, families dependent on Head Start for child care, small-business owners who cater to government employees, and other people indirectly but seriously affected by the shutdown.

While the overall national and global impact of the shutdown will take time to analyze, some big businesses have been up-front about the immediate impact. Family Dollar Stores (NYSE: FDO  ) says the shutdown hit its sales right away (although the company is in growth mode), and Stanley Black & Decker and W.W. Grainger voiced profit and sales concerns, respectively. The shutdown also created an FCC review backlog for new products from Apple, Google and other tech businesses.

Noise and wing-flapping

Not that members of Congress took an income hit. While the government was closed for business, the 352 sitting legislators brought in a conservatively estimated total of $4 million—a nice haul for the legislative equivalent of chirping and strutting.

House Republicans really don't like Obamacare. We get it. But good governance is about more than contests of ideas. It's about people's lives and livelihoods. For any group -- a family, a company, or a country -- to be strong, resilient, and competitive, it has to build and protect value.

And adding value isn't just about making more money. A robust economy can provide better safety nets for people in need. It can fund infrastructure and R&D that improve our quality of life through safer roads, better schools, new medical treatments, and technological advances. A high-value economy gives us the ability to help allies and trading partners build their own nest eggs.

Will Congressional Republicans change their song?

Not surprisingly, corporate America is less than pleased right now with the traditional party of business. For a certain faction of Congress, infighting and grandstanding are now more important than guarding and growing our country's economy and the financial well being of our citizens. Look for business to support challengers to these incumbents in the next primary cycle.

In the meantime, we could be looking at a repeat of this situation after the winter holidays. All Congress has done is to buy itself some time: an agreement to keep things running until Jan. 15 and kick the debt-limit issue down the road to February.

My kids, like most American children, know that if they make a mess they have to clean it up. Not everyone in Congress seems to have learned this basic childhood lesson, even after getting spanked by the administration and public opinion.

Senator Ted Cruz, from my home state, has provided a disappointing example of feather-ruffling and empty preening — so much so that the Houston Chronicle, which endorsed him, now openly pines for the days when his predecessor and fellow Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison, "had an unswerving commitment to the highest and best interests of Texas at all times."

It's not my intention to malign parakeets by comparing them to uncooperative lawmakers. But it's true that squawking, flapping, and kicking litter all over the place — no matter how entertaining — don't do anything useful.

Right now we have a vocal and ornery subset of legislators who have proven themselves willing to destroy real value in order to make a futile political statement. For the sake of America's political values as well as our economic well being, we need to vote them out and replace them with people who deliver actual value.

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