4288507944When I voted Republican, I asked for a small government, not a petty one. Over the past few weeks, however, Congress has given us just that: a trifling government of power-hungry individuals with no regard for the nation’s increasing dysfunction. I’m reminded of the crew of a boat who let go of the wheel while fighting over whose turn it is to steer. This shutdown reflects an unacceptable abandoning of common ground in favor of unacceptably dogmatic partisan attacks.

On Saturday, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would keep the government funded until Dec. 15 but would also undo much of the Affordable Care Act. In explaining why this caused such staunch polarization, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) claims: “This is an extremely consequential bill that will impact every American, and that’s why you have such passionate opinions. And we’re not giving up and we’re not caving in that easily.”

In response, Democrats followed up on their threat to stop any proposal that defunded Obamacare. Both parties obviously think they know the best direction for our nation, and while they both envision a place with healthier people, better jobs and strong trade, they are currently letting their differences derail all positive motion.

This disparity is not only unnecessary but also incredibly damaging; our stock market has ebbed due to heat from the government shutdown. One has to walk only a few miles to see firsthand how the zoo, our national monuments and many Congressional offices are shuttered. Meanwhile, thousands of furloughed Americans are stuck with the opportunity costs from this colossal waste of time.

Recently, parties have been rallying around negative attacks instead of solutions for progress. Congressional leaders now have no choice but to rethink their base notions and aims for the nation’s future. There is disagreement on budgets and healthcare, but we all want an end to the shutdown. Why, then, is it still so hard to abandon rivalry in favor of collaboration?

David Frum, a contributing editor for Newsweek and the Daily Beast, sums it up succinctly: “The short answer is a breakdown in the party’s ability to govern itself. It can’t think strategically.” While he directs this to Republicans, I believe it applies equally to Democrats. Without strong direction, party members move wherever they please. The elephant parade degrades into chaos, where pairs and packs diverge from order. The donkey herd latches onto talking points instead of confronting the problem.

The “it’s their fault, vote for me instead” stand that Congressional leaders have taken is deplorable. Recognizing this, John Boehner is trying — with little success — to pull his party through without making them the bad guys. I agree with him on Obamacare’s deep flaws. It is exorbitantly expensive, shockingly underserved and fails to address large contradictions within its own legal structure. While I believe it came with good intentions, it is nevertheless not a fully implementable program.

But instead of attacking Obamacare, the Republicans need to focus on alternatives. Limiting debt should be the top priority. Republicans should follow the example of Boehner and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and search for a solution to keep the debt limit down, possibly by cutting specific sections ofObamacare. While defunding Obamacare is an unrealistic goal, keeping the debt limit down is possible and should be Republicans’ focus going forward.

Congressional leaders must recognize that the only path now does not run on two separate party-run tracks but instead meets in the middle.

James Gadea is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. The Elephant in the Room appears every other Friday.

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