Is Congress catastrophically broken, or is it doing exactly what it was designed to do?

Summary:What if this is a condition Adams and Jefferson coded for, and what if we're now running an error handling routine built into America's operating system?

Enter the idea of checks and balances. This is really at the core of this column's discussion, so stay with me here.

When we all learned about checks and balances in school, it was the different branches of government checking and balancing each other. It was the legislative branch making sure a president didn't have too much power and the Supreme Court making sure the legislative branch didn't pass a law that exceeded our normal tolerance for Congressional stupidity.

But that's not how things work. Instead the two parties act as a system of checks and balances, with each party dogmatically disagreeing with everything the other party suggests, no matter how valid or necessary.

Even so, for the past 17 years, things have gotten done. Even with as useless a set of Congress critters as it's possible to have, the parties have managed to agree enough to keep the doors of our national monuments open -- and all the other stuff government is supposed to do.

But now... but now, there's now.

The prevailing story you'll hear is that a small subgroup of the Republican party hijacked the legislative process and refused to allow the continuing resolution to pass, and to keep the government funded. The story is they hate Obamacare (and a pile of other things that the Dems like), and so they're shutting everything down until they get their way.

Another variation you'll hear is that the Republicans offered a variety of compromises to the Dems, but Harry Reid wouldn't go for it. And yet another variation you'll hear is that Republican chief Boehner won't go along with the deal until he gets some special subsidies for Congressional staffers.

It's all childish, it's all disappointing, and it all makes America look completely foolish to those countries around the world who don't dabble in freedom (or that are run by mature, reasonable adults).

But let's step back a bit. Let's look at two issues at the core of this argument: continuing to fund the government and the Republicans' hatred for Obamacare.

Once again, let me remind you that -- for the purpose of this one article -- I don't want you going all partisan. I want you to think about policy and the core programming of what makes America tick. Step back out of your outrage for a moment and just think about the code.

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was signed into law in 2010 after it was passed by the 111th United States Congress. In June of 2012, the Supreme Court held up the constitutionality of most of the law.

So here you have all three checks and balances at work: passed by the legislative branch, signed by the executive branch, and reviewed and upheld by the judicial branch.

Ah, but we have one more check and balance here in America, don't we? Think hard on it. What's the fourth check and balance on our government? Take a second.

The answer, and more fascinating discussion, is on the next page...

Topics: Government : US, Government


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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