Kids Want Congress to Stop Acting Like Kids

Adults and children alike say gridlock over the government shutdown has turned Capitol Hill into kindergarten.

A child stands on the barricade around the Lincoln Memorial on Oct. 2, the second day of the federal government shutdown.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Oct. 11, 2013, 6:26 a.m.

No one un­der the age of 25 can be a mem­ber of Con­gress. But ac­cord­ing to some of the rhet­or­ic of the shut­down de­bate, law­makers aren’t even out of ele­ment­ary school yet.

Nearly two weeks in­to the gov­ern­ment shut­down, Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats re­main locked in a game of sand­box polit­ics, telling each oth­er to stop act­ing like petu­lant chil­dren and throw­ing tan­trums be­cause they can’t get what they want. The gen­er­al pub­lic ap­pears to agree with them: 69 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans say the GOP is act­ing like spoiled chil­dren; 58 per­cent say the same for Demo­crats, ac­cord­ing to a CNN/ORC poll.

The chil­dren of Amer­ica, it seems, don’t mind be­ing com­pared to mem­bers of Con­gress. But they do think law­makers should stop act­ing like them.

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“I think it’s really stu­pid and that the Re­pub­lic­ans should just put their big-boy pants on and come to a com­prom­ise,” said Sean Levitt, 13, who was vis­it­ing the na­tion’s cap­it­al from Los Angeles for a class trip Wed­nes­day. “I feel like the Re­pub­lic­ans are just mad at Obama be­cause they’re not get­ting what they want right now. They just don’t have enough con­trol, so they’re just mad.”

Call­ing law­makers’ be­ha­vi­or child­ish can be use­ful, said 12-year-old Lin­coln Smith, be­cause it could make them real­ize they need to start “talk­ing it out and listen­ing to oth­er people’s ideas, not just your own.”

“It is dumb that they’re all fight­ing about — wait, what are they fight­ing about again?” said Smith, who was in town from Utah for a fam­ily va­ca­tion this week.

“Debt lim­it,” his mom Katie re­minded him.

“Oh yeah, the debt lim­it,” he said. “That’s dumb.”

Eight-year-old China Beau­lieu, vis­it­ing from Geor­gia, was also run­ning out of pa­tience with law­makers.

“I don’t like it at all,” she said of the shut­down. “Be­cause I thought Wash­ing­ton, D.C. would be fun.” Her grand­moth­er, Brenda Palmer, said Beau­lieu’s moth­er was fur­loughed from her job at the In­tern­al Rev­en­ue Ser­vice.

Smith and Beau­lieu were among a num­ber of chil­dren roam­ing the Na­tion­al Mall on a windy Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon with their par­ents, their long-planned fam­ily va­ca­tions poor vic­tims of bad tim­ing. Jar­ren Heward, 17, could only cup his hands around his eyes and peer through the glass door in­to the closed Smith­so­ni­an Na­tion­al Air and Space Mu­seum. “It sucks that the gov­ern­ment is do­ing this now but I guess it’s needed, I don’t know, be­cause of the debt ceil­ing,” said the Ari­zona teen, whose fam­ily had been plan­ning the trip for five years. He had one thing to say to Con­gress: “Stop act­ing like kids.”

His broth­er Don, 16, called the shut­down “mad­den­ing” to many people, and said it’s time to start to ne­go­ti­ate. “I don’t like how Obama is act­ing like a little kid like every­body’s say­ing,” he said. “He’s not talk­ing to the Re­pub­lic­ans and ne­go­ti­at­ing.”

The young­est Heward, 14-year-old Brenton, agreed. “I’d tell them to — cause this has happened, be­fore right? And they’ve had to ne­go­ti­ate. But they’re not try­ing. They’re not work­ing at it. So you’ve got to work with each oth­er to put this back in or­der.”

The con­gres­sion­al grid­lock is enough to turn off 4-year-old Brent Ap­pleton from be­com­ing pres­id­ent him­self. “I don’t want the bad guys to be do­ing what they’re do­ing to, try­ing to do to the pres­id­ent,” said Ap­pleton, who is from Mary­land. “They’re try­ing to hurt him.”

Ap­pleton de­clined to do his sig­na­ture Pres­id­ent Obama im­pres­sion, which his moth­er Lisa said is spot-on. Obama, he said, has to “fix” the shut­down “by shar­ing.” As for what he would tell law­makers, Ap­pleton shrugged. “I can’t say any­thing.”

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