Rosa Meehan: The people have spoken, but a few in Congress refuse to hear

I am traveling in Europe, and this provides an interesting perspective on what is going on in Washington, D.C..

First of all, the notion that the American government will be shut down is inexplicable to people outside of the United States. The U.S. portrays and promotes itself as the leading democracy, the example for all aspiring democracies. That such an exemplary government could be shut down overnight is at odds with this perception developed by America. A huge irony is that the debate is driven by the concept of making health care simply affordable -- a service that is universally provided in other first-world countries. That a minority voice (recall that health care was a key issue in the presidential election and Obama was re-elected) can bring such a democracy figuratively to its knees is beyond comprehension abroad.

Second, from my perspective, the whole debacle is driven by a profound disrespect for or lack of understanding of the purpose of government. Nominally, this is packaged as a debate about the size and role of government. However, the argument for less government is seldom articulated beyond a characterization of "big and bad intrusive government that meddles in peoples lives." This argument has been pushed to the point of blindly cutting government expense (sequestration) with no accounting for relative importance between or within government programs. (Notably, the military has consistently articulated the extreme illogic of this tactic).

These spending cuts are maintained in the current budget resolution. With all of the flag waving and cheering for firefighters and other first responders, it is beyond ironic that these very government services will be negatively impacted by both the continued blind cuts and the closure of the government, despite every effort to protect these services as essential.

Third, the very real effects on individuals who work for the government is unconscionable. The blind cuts have led to mandatory and unpaid days off for many and now all are faced with the uncertainty of dismissal from work -- through no fault of their own. The impersonal approach of cutting government ignores the reality that government is "of the people, by the people and for the people" -- specifically decent, hard-working and committed individuals who work for government are being told they are not needed or wanted. These are not mindless government drones; they are your neighbors, friends, faces you see at the grocery store -- part of our communities across Alaska.

Step back from the rhetoric and it is profoundly disturbing to see such dysfunction in our government. I agree that Congress is broken. The whole point of a democracy is that every voice is heard and then -- this is a key point -- parties work together to craft a joint way forward. The broken cog in this current debacle is blind insistence on dismantling an act passed by Congress (the Affordable Care Act) and then treated as a referendum issue in the recent presidential election (the people supported the president who developed "Obamacare"). At what point is the "will of the people" finally honored?

Rosa Meehan is a member of the Anchorage Daily News guest editorial board. She is recently retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and lives in Anchorage.