The U.S. government has been shut down for a week. Here’s a guide to understanding this extraordinary event.
1. It’s all about Obamacare.
For three years Republicans have been obsessed about the Affordable Care Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2010. The day after it was signed into law, Michele Bachmann introduced a bill to repeal it. Then Steve King of Iowa demanded that Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders sign a “blood oath” to attach riders to every appropriations bill to repeal the ACA. He was already talking about a government shutdown in 2010. Boehner’s response was to say, “I am committed to doing everything I can do, and our team can do, to prevent Obamacare from being implemented. And when I say everything, I mean, everything.”
Mitt Romney asserted in his presidential campaign that he would repeal the ACA “on day one” of his administration. Defunding the ACA is a major emphasis of Tea Party supporters.
The Republican majority in the House has sent over 40 bills to the Senate which tried to repeal the ACA. Virtually all Republicans vote in favor of these doomed measures. These bills have no chance in the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority.
Because a significant amount of Congressional time has been taken up with these purely symbolic and partisan votes, CBS News calculated that each of these votes costs us over $1 million in running Congress. But that’s just a tiny fraction of the real costs of this political theater. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says that repealing the ACA would increase the deficit over the next ten years by more than $100 billion. Republican leaders have consistently called the ACA a “job-killing law”, but the CBO says the law will have minimal effect on employment.
At the state level, Republicans have tried to prevent the ACA from taking effect. In Missouri, not only has the Republican-run state refused to establish a health insurance marketplace, but state and local officials are forbidden to cooperate with the federal exchange.
2. Republicans have planned the government shutdown for a long time.
Early in 2013 a group of conservative activists created a “blueprint to defunding Obamacare”, which argued that the most conservative Republicans should push their Congressional colleagues and leaders into cutting off government funding. This months-long effort has been funded by the Koch brothers who have put over $200 million behind it. This plan includes targeting Republicans who are not supportive with critical ads and threats of primary challenges.
3. The Republicans created the government shutdown.
Despite the work of thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people in the public and private health and insurance sectors over the past several years to prepare the insurance exchanges which have just opened, House Republicans insisted on linking the funding of all of our government’s normal operations with a one-year delay in the functioning of the whole ACA. The Senate stripped these provisions from government funding bills, although every Republican Senator voted to keep them linked.
That stripped down bill, simply funding our government, was sent back to the House. And here’s where the Republican leadership made the choice to shut down the government. Speaker Boehner refused to bring that Senate bill for a vote. Most analysts say it would have passed the House, with some Republican votes. A majority of Senators, a majority of Representatives, and the President would all have agreed to avoid a shutdown. But Boehner blocked that vote and that shut down the government.
Republicans used this method of political blackmail because they can’t get what they want by the normal legislative process, since they don’t have the votes.
4. The Republicans don’t care about the social and economic consequences of the shutdown.
The last time they shut down the government in 1995-96, it cost an estimated $1.4 billion. Nobody has argued that any American’s life is improved if the government does not operate. Not our veterans, not our senior citizens, not our children, not our businesses. The most vulnerable Americans will suffer the most, such as children in Head Start programs and government workers who can’t afford to lose their paychecks.
Many conservatives believe that the shutdown is an astute political move. They argue that the shutdown will hurt Democrats politically, not Republicans.
Because most Republicans are in safe districts, there is little fear that the Republicans would lose their majority in the House. That’s why they don’t appear to care that a majority of Americans reject their efforts to defund the ACA. The most recent poll, as reported by Forbes, shows only 33% believe that the law should be repealed or defunded.
Nevertheless, most Americans still believe that the law will increase their health care costs.
What Republicans are really afraid of is that Americans will now discover the advantages of the ACA: uninsured people will be able to get insurance with federal subsidies and people with pre-existing conditions will get insurance. Their made-up statistics about job losses will evaporate into thin air.
That’s why we have no government today.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 8, 2013