After the shutdown …

Most of us hope there is a silver lining even in the darkest cloud. I’m hoping the dark cloud of the government shutdown does indeed have a silver lining – the possibility that despite such a debacle we may finally be closer to a long-term solution to our budget deficit and staggering national debt.

The government shutdown was an ugly moment of politics that never should have happened. Even so, I believe it has moved us towards a clarifying moment of truth about what we must do if we are truly going to put our fiscal house in order and keep our economy working for the American people.

Ironically, “A Moment of Truth” is the title of the report the Bowles-Simpson debt reduction commission issued in late 2010, just a few weeks after I was elected to the U.S. Senate. And in that report, the commission got it exactly right when it said this: “Deep down, every American knows we face a moment of truth once again. We cannot play games or put off hard choices any longer. Without regard to party, we have a patriotic duty to keep the promise of America to give our children and our grandchildren a better life.”

And in the nearly three years since the commission issued its report, along with detailed recommendations for reducing our budget deficit and national debt, I have yet to see a better template for fixing America’s finances.

The Bowles-Simpson approach is clearly the best silver lining playbook in the wake of the government shutdown.

Of course, nobody liked every proposal set forth by the commission, not even the commissioners themselves. But they did it to get everything on the table for discussion – spending, revenue and reforms.

We still haven’t had that discussion because both political parties have hunkered down behind partisan barricades, campaign slogans and sound bites.

It’s been good for the ratings of the cable news channels and radio talk shows, which thrive on political gamesmanship. But it’s been bad for the American people, who wonder if Congress is still capable of looking beyond narrow considerations of party or ideology to address the broader needs of our nation.

If there is any silver lining to what we’ve seen in Washington these last few weeks, we will know soon enough from the work of the conference committee of House and Senate members appointed to find common ground on the federal budget.

It is the first budget conference in Congress since 2009, and it is supposed to come up with a final spending plan by Dec. 13.

Democracy is seldom quiet and orderly, but I was encouraged that the budget conference committee leaders met for breakfast the same day that the government reopened, and they seemed serious about reconciling their differences.

I hope they remember that the real mission of their committee isn’t found in any legislative language and doesn’t come from the ink of the President’s pen. It comes from the American people, who instinctively understand that America cannot be great if debt leaves America broke.

Our challenge is clear and inescapable. It is a moment of truth, one that Congress was intended to live up to. To provide leadership. To level with the American people and be honest with each other. To find common ground. And to rise to the higher ground of great national purpose.


— Joe Manchin is West Virginia’s junior U.S. Senator


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