My wife and I leave Oregon today for the two-week drive back to our winter quarters in Washington, D.C. Will there be a functioning government there when we arrive?
Maybe not. Yes, another government shutdown looms. This time it's over sales of fetal tissue; some conservative legislators are vowing not to vote for any spending bill that includes funding for Planned Parenthood.
The previous shutdown, in 2013, was over ObamaCare. And over the years, there have been others for a variety of other reasons.
Republican leaders don't want another one. They're fearful voters will hold it against the GOP in next year's elections. But they're dealing with a revolution in their ranks.
The party leaders' fears are well-founded. While some Americans will praise the rebels for standing up for their principles, most voters see shutdowns as further evidence of Washington's dysfunctionality. Blame tends to go to the Congressmen who throw themselves on the track, even among voters who sympathize with the train-blockers' cause.
Nevertheless, chances are there will be more shutdowns in years to come, if not this year. For better or worse, we have a two-party system. And it takes two branches of government to enact laws.
If different parties control the branches, there are only two ways legislation can pass. The two parties can compromise, or one can use whatever leverage the rules of the game allow to get its way over the objections of the other. Shutting down the government is a form of leverage.
In bitterly partisan eras like ours, compromise flounders. Ideologues take increasingly strident positions. Today, we have a self-avowed Socialist making a serious run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Meanwhile, a swelling faction of Republican Congressmen wants to repeal the New Deal and return the government to where it was in 1932. For many in this faction, by the way, farm programs are among the targets for elimination.
Granted, Bernie Sanders is probably not going to be president and there are four years to go on the current farm bill. But much of the Democratic Party is moving left, and the Republicans, who used to be pro-business, have been induced by their ideologues into terminating the Export-Import Bank.
Ideological purity has consequences. General Electric has already announced that to compete for Third World contracts that require official financing, it has signed for a line of credit with France's export-credit agency. That will require it to move 400 American jobs to France (http://tiny.cc/…).
Third parties have never proved viable in the U.S., but we've never felt the need of them more. It's fashionable to say the country is half liberal and half conservative, but that's a vast oversimplification. Some Americans are liberal on social issues and conservative on economic issues; some are the other way around.
Even that refinement oversimplifies. Single issues -- women's rights, environmentalism, abortion, immigration, police overreach, just to mention a few -- motivate growing numbers of voters. Economic interests move others: In corn-growing states, for example, a candidate's position on ethanol can swing elections.
Neither party begins to capture these complexities. Still, the odds are we'll still have a two-party system 10 years from now. Which means, we likely haven't seen the last government shutdown. Whether we have one this year should be clear by the time I get to Washington.
Urban Lehner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org