Who Decides What Services are “Essential?”

The quiz was a great way to start off this political discussion. I believe many young people today are not as fixed and rigid on their political stance as earlier generations. This may be a generalization, but from my experience and talking with my peers, it seems today people may identify with one party, but are more open minded and willing to stray a bit away from their party’s ideals. This is the visible problem with government. The two parties are becoming more polarized and unwilling to wander from its ideals. Upon taking the quiz I identified as a Libertarian, which did not surprise me. I am more conservative on fiscal issues, and liberal on social issues.

I found a very thought provoking article on The Nation. The title of Kramer and Comerford’s article caught my attention: ” That Time When DC Stopped Funding Domestic Violence Shelters While Both Congressional Gyms Stayed Open.” The main argument is who can and should decide what services are “essential” during a shutdown?US+1+October+2013

Clearly many government services have been shut down during this 16 day government shut down, such as national parks, Domestic Violence centers, and some departments for education and commerce, to name a few. Why was the government in control of deciding what was essential enough to stay open and what was not essential?

The article states, “Prioritized above all else were, of course, “national security” activities, deemed beyond essential under the banner of “protecting life and property.”” If the government was concerned about people’s security and “protecting life and property,” they ignored many people. For example, federal funds for infant food were in danger, funds for early education were withdrawn and the National Institute of Health (NIH) did not accept any new patients. Ironically, about thirty children every week visit the NIH for experimental treatment, of these thirty kids, ten typically have cancer. Shouldn’t treatment for cancer be considered “essential” if cancer is the main cause of death among kids under 14 years of age? This is very upsetting to me. Moreover  while these necessary services were unavailable to the general public, the congressional gym remained open and supportive law makers were still getting paid. This illustrates how this shut down was very selective and biased.

The shut down clearly affected many people’s daily activities and people had a harder time meeting their basic needs. Why should the majority of people be punished for a few people who cannot seem to compromise? The two parties are become more and more polarized, which has caused a significant impact on the daily lives of many Americans. Why should workers who are trying to work and support their family be punished due to the government’s negligence? Why should domestic violence shelters who support and provide security to women struggle with funds? How can an organization as important as the NIH turn new patients away? All of these services seem essential to me. The government would not have had to choose between what services are “essential” and “nonessential” if they started to  do their jobs more efficiently and conclusively.



3 comments on “Who Decides What Services are “Essential?”

  1. You make a great point in questioning the process of ranking services as “essential.” When you questioned why the government was in control of deciding which services are essential, I wonder what alternative you suggest. I think the government is the only organization that can make the decision. (Just a thought: Maybe organizations like the NIH were halted while the congressional gym stayed open due to the amount of money they require to function. You’re right, it does seem weird that gym services would be identified as essential though.)

    I was also surprised that you identify as libertarian, yet you choose to write about your dismay with the non-availability of government services. The government makes many services available that may not exist (you mention domestic violence centers), or would be too expensive for many to afford if they were privatized (you mention services from the NIH). Libertarianism argues against widespread government involvement, but it seems that the government plays an integral role in the existence and availability of these essential services in the first place…

  2. Just a quick reaction to first statement. I have seen research showing for sure that PARTY affiliation is much weaker now. However, our political parties in general are always coalitions of ideologies. Whether young people are more fluid now about a particular ideology or perspective is less clear to me.

    I am always wary of the hazy view of history that sees like the 60s youth as all of one mind.

    But it would be interesting to look at. I do have a reading I used to use that showed that millennials are more interested in actions than in political labels.

  3. You raise some good points. Overall, once we have a budget, it reflects a certain consensus to “go along with” whatever the messy process of politicians from different parties having come to some agreement.

    If we start to disaggregate government into what you or I like or don’t , we erode the very idea of a common Republic. This, to me, is why some call the shutdown tactic (and the threat to debt ceiling) “nihilisitc.” It seems intent on annihilating the very basis of commonwealth, of common bonds. At some level, i think the negative reaction to the shutdown among many Americans was that: a realization that pay as you go or as you like government erodes the whole premise.

    If we each only paid taxes on the part of the government we liked, would we then only get to use those services?

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