On October 1, the start of the fiscal year, the federal government was partially shut down when Congress was unable to pass a budget. This standoff was a product of the conflict between the Republican controlled House of Representatives and the Democrat controlled Senate over the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was passed in 2010 and is set to be implemented on January 1, 2014.
Congress, under threat of a debt default, passed a bill on October 17 ending the shutdown. However, the true issue remains. This shutdown brings into sharp relief the root of congressional corruption: gerrymandering, the manipulation of congressional voting district boundaries for an electoral advantage.
Gerrymandering is a political weapon that has corrupted the United States government. It has created numerous safe districts for Republicans, districts which almost inevitably vote Republican. Many of these districts are so one sided that politicians do not bother to listen to the concerns of voters—after all, the pre-drawn district lines make their re-election highly likely already. During the recent shutdown, a handful of Tea Party Republicans were able to threaten more conservative Republican congressmen in gerrymandered districts to comply with the Tea Party’s wishes. This backhanded dealing allowed the shutdown to occur.
But how were these congressmen possibly threatened by the Tea Party? The answer lies in the party’s vast resources. Because many gerrymandered districts are almost guaranteed to elect a republican candidate, the Tea Party is capable of placing a new tea-party candidate against the incumbent congressman in the next primaries. The Tea Party could then throw all of its funding and backing solely to the new candidate. If this occurred, the incumbent would likely lose his or her seat in the House. Naturally, many Republicans value their own offices and therefore comply with Tea Party wishes. As a result, the government shutdown purported to combat three year old healthcare laws was possible.
October’s shutdown is nothing more than a symptom of congressional corruption and exemplifies a shocking weakness in our political system. Gerrymandering sends a clear message to American voters: congressmen place their own job security over the will of the citizenry. In a nation which prides itself on Democratic values and equal representation, such an instance of corruption should not be allowed to thrive.
Written by ZILIN ZHOU