Something startling happened last week when Mariano Rivera took the mound for the final time in Yankee Stadium. Fans of all stripes, Yankee and otherwise, stood to applaud and show their admiration for one of the greatest players baseball has ever known. And baseball fans all across the nation cheered, regardless of whether they were Republicans or Democrats, Yankees fans, Mets fans – or even Red Sox fans. This was a moment in the national consciousness when all could agree: Attention must be paid.
It’s too bad that our congressional leaders cannot muster the same sense of unity around something that is much more serious than our national pastime. The U.S. federal government is shut down. An estimated 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed. National parks, museums and monuments are shuttered, turning away tourism dollars. Still embroiled in one of the nation’s most challenging economic periods, the U.S. faces a debt of $16.7 trillion and is rapidly approaching its debt ceiling. A potential federal default looms. Economists warn such an event would trigger catastrophic consequences around the world.
It’s no surprise that Congress’ approval rating is down to record lows. In a CNN/ORC International poll released on Monday, just 10% of Americans say they approve of the job Congress is doing, an all-time low in a CNN poll. A whopping 87% say they disapprove of the job federal lawmakers are doing, the highest level ever in CNN polling.
President Barack Obama has criticized Republicans in Congress for failing to live up to their Constitutional responsibility to pass a budget. Republicans have accused the president of remaining too hands-off in the ongoing dispute. In interview after interview, Americans give voice to the frustration they feel – comparing politicians to bickering children, incapable of doing the job they were sent to Washington to do.
One bright spot: the president hosted congressional leaders from both parties at the White House this evening to try to end the impasse.
What would be remarkable would be for Congress to show the leadership required to rise above partisan ideology in an attempt to achieve broader fiscal sanity. We need leaders on Capitol Hill and in the White House, and while they may never be as devastatingly effective as the last player to wear the number 42 on his baseball jersey, Americans are looking for a government that works. And for a reason, other than Rivera, to cheer.