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Making do

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The nation’s leaders dithered their way to reopening the government this week only to set Feb. 7 as another deadline for congressional action to avoid default on America’s debt. While it is good news that the government workers can expect a paycheck, it is hardly reassuring to America that it took more than two weeks to do nothing.

October is a month that evokes many memories. The Wall Street crashes of 1929 and 1987 both came in October. Now 2013 joins the list of ignominious Octobers that have moved worldwide financial markets and negatively impacted the lives of millions of Americans.

The saddest aspect of this debacle in Washington is that a fringe portion of the Republican Party attempted to change history by creating a confrontation over an issue that America had already settled. That left the balance of the Republicans and the Democrats to create a majority to solve the debt-limit issue.

They failed, forgetting that they were sent to Washington to govern. They allowed this fraction of Congress to throw people out of work, threaten default on the nation’s debt and to selectively operate a government. And then they delivered a solution that only postpones the debate another four months.

However, many Americans have simply ignored the debate and focused their attention on their lives and the life of their community.

In New York State, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo assembled a plan to reopen the Statute of Liberty, agreeing to underwrite the daily expense for the next few months. Recognizing that the statute is not only a symbol of America but also welcomes millions of newcomers and visitors to New York City, the governor took on the responsibility of ensuring that it was open to tourists.

Across the country, life continued despite limited federal services. Some government employees paid a price, furloughed without pay. Here in the north country, continuing education of soldiers at Jefferson Community College, treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and day care services among many things were threatened.

But citizens made do. A private foundation underwrote day care costs. And of course every worker continued to see federal taxes deducted from paychecks. There was no farm bill legislation, a failure that frustrates our dairy industry.

In other states, governors found ways to keep federal parks such as the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore open.

Americans have demonstrated that they are resourceful, creative and adaptive. Civic groups look at solutions to maintain community assets when financial times become challenged.

This month in Watertown, the community was faced with the closure of the North Country Children’s Clinic. Answering the call, Samaritan Medical Center assumed temporary management, assuring clients that services will continue while a financial plan is developed to put the clinic on a solid footing. This effort follows immediately upon Samaritan’s extremely successful takeover of the old Mercy building and creation from that rubble the Samaritan Village, a senior care facility unmatched upstate.

America’s hinterlands host many foundations, such as the Northern New York Community Foundation, that leverage locally generated assets to fund quality of life projects and education. Volunteers staff fire departments and ambulance services.

Libraries look beyond the frustrations of the day to initiate fundraising activities to create endowments to sustain tomorrow. Just look at the successful Paula Poundstone concert in the city last month, which raised more than $16,000 to support the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library and its endowment.

Americans are frustrated with the inability of elected federal officials to translate the lessons learned in the grass-root classrooms of America to their new jobs when they go to Washington to assume the responsibility of governing. It is hardly a happy day to know that Congress and the president have simply put the debate over government functionality off until next year. They would have never gotten away with that at home.

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