Editorial: Congressional cherry-picking must stop

Editorial Board

The government shutdown is a problem. It deeply is affecting every sector of society, regardless of how important or relevant. Programs to fund healthy foods for low-income mothers have been stopped. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shut down its influenza prevention program, just in time for flu season. The National Zoo isn’t open for spectators; even the live “panda cam” has been switched off.

But what certain members of Congress seem to be concerned about most is the ability of veterans — and other American citizens — to be able to walk through war monuments and visit national overlooks.

Republican Congress members from Michele Bachmann to Randy Neugebauer have spent days stationed outside of the World War II Memorial in Washington in order to let American war veterans pass the National Park Service barricades and visit the monument.

 “These brave Americans have sacrificed so much for our country,”said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Convention. “House Republicans have acted to keep parks and monuments open; Democrats are standing in the way. We want to do what we can, in the face of the intransigence from the White House, to support our veterans.”

Republican politicians like Priebus have even offered to use private Republican Party funds in order to hire a staff of five security guards for the memorial. This would allow it to remain open for 30 additional days, despite the shutdown — and veterans would be able to visit whenever they wished.

It is true that our war veterans are and should continue to be valued and appreciated for all that they do and have done to defend our country. But why is the GOP fighting for people’s rights to walk through memorials and appreciate the scenery at national overlooks when there are so many crucial government-funded programs at risk?

The shutdown is halting a number of programs vital for the continued innovation and research development of the country; NASA, for example, has furloughed all but a few hundred of its 18,000 workers, halting critical research projects. And several Antarctic projects, which have been delayed because of the shutdown, are in danger of being damaged permanently. NASA’s IceBridge campaign, a project designed to observe and record changes in glaciers and sea ice, will likely be canceled for the entire year.

Across the country, 7,000 children are staying home from Head Start early education, and there are now more than 9 million in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program who are struggling to obtain nutritious food every day. More than 2,000 shelters offering support to victims of sexual and domestic abuse rely on government programs to stay open; soon, they’ll be forced to close their doors as well.

Congress recently voted on a series of proposals which would restore funding to the Department of Veterans Affairs, fund the city of Washington, D.C., and keep all national parks and museums open temporarily. It failed.

The proposal is addressing only those parts of the shutdown that seem the most poignant to Republicans. Picking and choosing which consequences of the shutdown are more important to address is simply a cop-out way for the GOP to look like a hero for veterans and tourists.

What about the other vital programs needed by Americans? Critical food investigations sponsored by the Food and Drug Administration have stopped. Rape investigations are being put on hold. And millions of Americans are struggling every day to feed their families and keep their children in early education programs.

“People shouldn’t have to choose between help for our veterans and cancer research,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “We shouldn’t have to choose between visiting our national parks or enrolling kids in Head Start.”

The nation’s No. 1 priority should be reopening the government and every single one of its programs. Republicans need to stop cherry-picking and start addressing the problem as a whole.