Common Ground: The kitchen table beckons

Nick Bratcher

We’ve been living without the government for 10 days now.

I’ll save my banter about how few of us have noticed this phenomenon for a different time and place.

Instead, I’d like to consider why it is that we’re in this mess in the first place.

Basically, on Oct. 1, Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to fund any part of the government in a last-ditch effort to defund a new round of implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Evan Ford, a columnist for the University of Tennessee student newspaper, made an observation of the situation that likened House Republicans to a baseball team flooding the field in the ninth inning to avoid losing.

Two of the biggest flaws in this line of thinking are that it doesn’t take into account why the Republicans did what they did nor does it accept the legality of what they did.

I don’t want to definitively say that either side is right, but what the Republicans did was certainly within the parameters of the game — regardless of the apparent lack of bipartisan cooperation or desperation it shows.

And, at least from their point of view, the action seemed necessary, unlike bitterly flooding a field to avoid a loss, which by no account is necessary.

That casts Republicans in the light of just plain sore losers. Most of them may not be less than that depiction, but I’m equally sure that at least some of them are more than that depiction.

Instead, I’d like to offer a more accurate analogy.

What happened Oct. 1 is more like a household budget issue left unresolved.

Imagine you’re sitting at your kitchen table paying bills. You’re 35 years old and have left the days of beer pong and body shots on frat row firmly behind you.

Your current debt is greater than your equitable assets.

In other words, if you gave everything you and your spouse made in income this year to pay off your house loan, car loans and credit card debt — ignoring expenses like retirement savings, groceries and fuel — you would not have enough cash to pay off your debt.

Then, as you are trying to make sense of this financial mess, your son, daughter and spouse all come to you to ask if they can buy something with your credit card.

Without a word, you just get up from the table and walk out of your house —demanding that your family reconsider their desires before you come back to pay even the necessary bills.

That’s really the situation we’re in as a nation, except it’s a lot worse because in my scenario, you might have the option of selling your assets like your car or house or retirement savings to pay down your debt, whereas the United States does not. It just has income, so to speak.

In fact, that “income” in this story is the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, all the goods created and services provided in a given year, and it totaled nearly $15 trillion in 2012. The debt is currently $17 trillion.

The lion’s share of that cash is being spent on Defense, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. It’s that simple. They amount to about 60 percent of U.S. spending every year.

I’m not a Republican by any means, and I still don’t endorse the actions of the House Republicans for simply walking away from the kitchen table.

But what choice did they have as the Affordable Care Act came demanding more money than it’s already borrowing to pay for those four big-ticket items?

And better yet, what choice do you have?