Republished with permission from Lucian K. Truscott IV
If nobody had come up with the word “stopgap,” oh whatever would we do? That pathetic adjective is all over the news tonight as January 19 approaches, when the first of two government funding bills comes due. The other bill’s deadline is February 2, when even more of the money we pay in taxes must be appropriated to keep the government open.
You will notice I’m not talking about the important functions of our government, such as defending the nation from foreign enemies, combatting the latest version of whatever respiratory virus is tearing its way across the nation, or preventing commercial aircraft from running into each other on runways or falling out of the sky. I’m just talking about, quite literally, keeping the lights and heat on in office buildings in Washington D.C. and around the country that house the government departments and agencies that actually do the necessary stuff like curing disease or making sure bridges don’t collapse and dams are not breached. That’s because we don’t talk about the normal functions of government anymore. We talk about fiscal emergencies imposed by a political party that doesn’t believe in a functioning government to the point that one of its top three candidates for president has said he will close down the IRS if he is elected.
There are such things as normal governments in the world. To fund themselves, they levy taxes and use that money from their citizens to keep their governments going not only for their own citizens, but to maintain a place in the world of nations, the collection of countries that enable companies within their borders to manufacture goods and engage in trade and exchange services with other nations—you know, stuff like issuing passports so their citizens can travel in order to engage in said trade and exchange of services.
We, the citizens of the United States of America, must look overseas or across our northern and southern borders in order to encounter such a normal nation, because if you look here within our country’s borders, you won’t find one. Here in this country what we have is a government run by people like a Republican member of congress I heard interviewed on NPR today who explained the whole problem behind the looming government shutdown. The Congressman’s name is Tim Burchett, and he’s from Knoxville, Tennessee, and here is how he put the problem to Steve Inskeep, the NPR host of Morning Edition:
“Well, currently, we’re taking in about $5 trillion a year, and we’re spending $7 trillion. And there’s no—I don’t care if you’re a liberal, a conservative, a moderate or a mugwump, those numbers just do not work.”
See how easy that is? Good old Tim Burchett has figured it out. If we want to keep the government open, all we need to do is levy an amount of taxes that match the amount we spend, or if we decide that’s too much trouble, the Constitution gives us the ability to borrow that amount of money from future taxes and pay that loan sometime down the line when we decide to come to our senses and levy enough taxes to both pay our current bills and pay down the debt we have incurred.
Tim was elected to congress in 2019, so he hasn’t been around long enough to remember the last time that happened during the presidency of Bill Clinton with the passage of the Balanced Budget Agreement of 1997, which produced a budget surplus that went beyond his presidency into 2001, when a Republican president, George Bush, promptly passed a tax cut that wiped out the surplus and returned the budget to deficit spending because, in the words of Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, “It is our due.”
But even a congressman in his second term in office could see what the problem is: we spend more money to run our government and serve the American people than we take in as taxes, and we need to turn that around and raise taxes.
We need people in our Congress who understand complex problems and know intuitively how to say what they are and present us with solutions that will solve them, especially if they are members of the Republican Party, which has a history of cutting taxes every time a Republican is elected president and for even a brief period of time controls both houses of Congress.
Instead, what we’ve got is a Congress with a Republican majority, among which are people like Lauren Boebert, whose husband, who she is divorcing, recently called the police because Boebert hit him in the face in a restaurant. The leadership of the Republicans in the House of Representatives also includes Elise Stefanik of New York, who during an appearance on Meet the Press on Sunday refused to say that she would recognize the winner of the next presidential contest unless he has the last name “Trump” thus precipitating not a transfer of power but a Constitutional crisis.
Even with reasonable Republicans like Tim Burchett in the House, who at least is able to recognize the nature of our budgetary problem, even if he is not willing to vote to fix it, we are stuck with what I like to call the Gas Can Caucus running the House of Representatives. The way they deal with the problem of not having enough money to fund the government is to treat the whole thing like an exciting road trip. Instead of filling up the tank when they leave home, they put a few gallons of gas in a whole bunch of gas cans and load them in the trunk, and every time the car is about to run out of gas, they stop by the side of the road and put another can of gas in the tank. That’s what a stopgap funding bill is. It’s a can of gas to keep the government’s engine running so they can drive on down the road until the engine starts to sputter and they can pull another can out of the trunk and do it all over again.
Just think of it. This country is beset by problems like overdoses from fentanyl, which is either the first or second cause of death among 18 to 45 year olds, depending on whose statistics you use, and how they are sliced and diced. One of our allies, Ukraine, is engaged in a war with Russia that threatens its very existence, and where is our funding for aid to Ukraine? In one of those gas cans in the trunk, that’s where. Houthi rebels in Yemen are disrupting shipping lanes that run through the Red Sea to and from the Suez Canal, and the funding for our Department of Defense is in another of those gas cans, where it’s being kept by Republicans in the House who are out there on the hustings saying they support our men and women in uniform, including those who serve in the Navy, which is “the greatest Navy in the world” according to all the patriots in the Republican Gas Can Caucus.
You see where we are, folks? Every time you read another story about how we need to pass another “stopgap funding bill,” what is really being talked about isn’t some squabble in the Congress between Democrats and Republicans. It is a fundamental problem in our national politics. We have one political party that believes in our government and getting things done, and another political party that doesn’t. We have one political party that respects the outcome of elections, no matter which candidate from whatever party wins, and another political party that has made a decision that elections are not the way a democracy chooses its leaders but rather a farce to mask their own will to power.
Everything else, and I mean everything else, is just an illusion. Buckle up. There’s enough gas in the tank to get us to November, and after that, who knows? Trump told reporters outside the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today that if he isn’t elected president, there will be “bedlam.”
He may as well have said, “Be there, will be WILD.”
Lucian K. Truscott IV
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better.