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Beltway blunder

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Well, the 113th Congress finally accomplished something!

This achievement isn’t necessarily what most Americans were looking for, like reforming our immigration system or enhancing the antiquated tax code. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate didn’t do anything to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure or address people’s concerns about the troubling expansion of domestic spying.

No, what they got done Monday in Washington was the ultimate gridlock: They closed the government. That’s right. The individuals who were elected to oversee the process of providing federal services to Americans across the country decided to shut them down by refusing to pass a bill to fund the government for the next year.

Some vital government operations will continue to function. But scores of federal employees were forced to stay home yesterday because their agencies weren’t open — and the collective cost to these men and women was about $5 billion. It’s estimated that this number will increase to $55 billion if the shutdown lasts at least a month.

But don’t worry a bit about the legislators. Even though they’re the ones not doing their jobs, they’ll continue to be paid.

Look at your next paycheck. Despite the government shutting down, our federal tax deduction will still be there to support this foolhardy behavior.

President Obama and most members of Congress will say that shutting down the government wasn’t their goal. They’ll point fingers at their political adversaries and say this was their entire fault.

But make no mistake. This closure was deliberate in that their primary objective was to cling to an agenda no matter what.

The No. 1 mission of the president and members of Congress is to keep the government functioning. But these alleged leaders have their priorities twisted around, and they believe this is secondary to other goals.

The shutdown chaos all hinged on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also cynically known as ObamaCare, passed in March 2010 and put into effect yesterday. Legislators conspired to adhere to their respective party’s talking points about the health care reform measure at the expense of approving a federal budget.

Democrats rejected some ideas proposed by Republicans that would enhance the law. One of them was to remove the numerous exemptions granted to certain individuals, organizations and, of course, members of Congress. The Democrats should consider enforcing the law equitably across the board by including this provision in their bill.

For their part, Republicans have been hell-bent on dismantling the law by whatever means at their disposal. Driven by a perverse ideology of obstructionism, they refuse to accept that the law is here to stay — deeply flawed as it is.

President Obama and members of Congress must find a way to resolve their differences and get the government operating again. For the next few years, they should examine portions of the Affordable Care Act and find common solutions to specific problems. There is no quick-fix that can be implemented overnight, so they must be committed to tweaking it here and there to ensure it functions better than it would in its current state.

But the most important objective for them now is to come to an agreement over our spending priorities and pass a bill to fund them for the next year. That’s called governance, and it requires leadership.

Just maybe these leaders of both parties have become confused. Maybe they perceive their role as entertainers whose sole mission is to amuse the crowd that encircles them, and for federal legislators this is the group of constituents that sends them to Washington every few years.

But now they have canceled the rodeo, and it’s time for them to strive for more than just laughs and applause. It is time for our congressional leaders to govern.

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