WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN?

ABSTRACT: The federal government’s shutdown for lack of a budget has nothing to do with the deficit or democracy; rather, it has everything to do with politics, ideology, and the tyranny of a minority. The extreme wing of the Republican Party, without the support in Congress to pass legislation and having lost the last election, is trying to impose its ideology on the country by taking the government’s budget hostage.

The federal government’s budget deficit is at its lowest level in 5 years and roughly half of what it was in 2009. The Republicans’ primary policy target is the Affordable Health Care law, also known as Obama Care. They ideologically oppose this expansion of the government’s role in health care, even though it is built on conservative principles and will provide health insurance to tens of millions of Americans who don’t have it now.

There’s a bill sitting in the House that funds the government for a few weeks – a so-called Continuing Resolution (CR). With a simple yes or no vote, it would pass. But because it doesn’t have the support of the majority of Republicans, Speaker Boehner won’t allow a vote on it.

800,000 federal employees will lose their paychecks and millions of Americans will lose services funded by the government. Nonetheless, members of Congress will continue to get their paychecks and their good, taxpayer-subsidized health insurance.

As recent history has shown, if the extremists in Congress get what they want, or any part of it, they’ll just be back at the next opportunity, creating another crisis, and asking for more. Therefore, negotiation with this extortion, blackmail, hostage taking, or bullying, whatever you want to call it, should not and cannot be undertaken.

FULL POST: The federal government’s shutdown for lack of a budget has nothing to do with the deficit or democracy; rather, it has everything to do with politics, ideology, and the tyranny of a minority. The extreme wing of the Republican Party, without the support in Congress to pass legislation and having lost the last election, including the presidency and seats in both houses of Congress, is trying to impose its ideology on the country by taking the government’s budget hostage.

This extreme faction is not willing to abide by the last election, by legislation previously passed (such as the Affordable Care Act), or by the will of the American public. And they are not willing to engage in meaningful negotiations because they believe they know what is best for the country and for all of us. They are willing, however, to disrupt the lives of millions of Americans and to harm our weak economic recovery by shutting down the federal government.

And this is not about the deficit. The federal government’s budget deficit is at its lowest level in 5 years and roughly half of what it was in 2009. [1] The deficit is projected to continue to fall as the economy recovers, which increases government revenue and reduces expenses. Many economists expect that in 2 years it will have decreased to a sustainable level. [2]

The Republicans’ primary policy target is the Affordable Health Care law, also known as Obama Care. They ideologically oppose this expansion of the government’s role in health care, even though it is built on conservative principles: 1) it uses private health insurers and providers, and 2) it requires personal responsibility through the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance (an idea born in a conservative think tank). They oppose it despite the fact that it will provide health insurance to tens of millions of Americans who don’t have it now, and the fact that the more the public knows about Obama Care’s specific provisions, the more they like it. (See my posts of 8/21/13 and 8/19/13 for more information.)

Various budget proposals from the Republicans identify their other policy targets. They have included cuts to other social programs that their extreme wing opposes, including cuts to Social Security, the Medicare and Medicaid health programs, and food and nutrition assistance, among others. On the other hand, most of them would increase military spending on top of its significant increases in recent years, which already mean that we are spending more on the military (adjusted for inflation) than at any time since World War II. [3]

The Republicans in the House of Representatives, who are the roadblock to passage of a budget, are refusing to bring to a vote any budget that does not have the support of a majority of Republicans. Therefore, the most extreme 117 Republicans in the House, 27% of its overall membership, can and are blocking progress and forcing this shutdown. (See post of 7/27/13 for more information on obstructionism in the House.)

There’s a bill sitting in the House that funds the government for a few weeks – a so-called Continuing Resolution (CR). It’s simple and straightforward; it simply funds the government at current levels without making any policy changes. If the Republican leadership in the House would allow a simple yes or no vote on this bill, it would pass with support from members of both parties – as it did in the Senate. But because it doesn’t have the support of the majority of House Republicans, Speaker Boehner won’t allow a vote on it.

800,000 federal employees will lose their paychecks and millions of Americans will lose services funded by the government, including meals for seniors, Head Start classes for preschoolers, and access to national parks for all of us. Nonetheless, members of Congress will continue to get their paychecks and their good, taxpayer-subsidized health insurance.

This is the second time in 20 years that an extreme Republican agenda has forced a government shutdown. Democrats have never done this when they were in the minority or did not hold the presidency.

As recent history has shown, if the extremists in Congress get what they want, or any part of it, they’ll just be back at the next opportunity, creating another crisis, and asking for more. Therefore, negotiation with these extortionists, blackmailers, hostage takers, or bullies, whatever you want to call them, should not and cannot be undertaken. [4]

Long before blocking Obama Care was linked to a government shutdown, Norm Ornstein, the political scientist at the conservative America Enterprise Institute, wrote that “What is going on now to sabotage Obamacare is not treasonous – just sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials with the fiduciary responsibility of governing.” [5] I wonder what he would say now about those in Congress whose behavior has led to this government shutdown.


[1]       Klimasinska, K., 9/12/13, “U.S. budget gap narrows as stronger growth boosts revenues,” Bloomberg

[2]       Lowrey, A., 4/22/13, “The incredible shrinking budget deficit,” The New York Times

[3]       Bilmes, L., 7/31/13, “Pentagon a ripe target for cuts,” The Boston Globe

[4]       Reich, R., 9/30/13, “Why Obama and the Democrats shouldn’t negotiate with extortionists,” The Huffington Post

[5]       Light, J., 7/25/13, “Obstructionism for the recordbooks,” Moyers & company (billmoyers.com/2013/07/25/obstructionism-for-the-recordbooks)

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2 comments

  1. harry simmons · · Reply

    Ya Ya — And Boehner reneged on his word. In the budget negotiations in March, he got the Dems to cut their request of $1.058 trillion budget down to $988 billion- a 70 billion cut- in return for no shutdown and debt ceiling (TBD) fight. Yeah. Forked tongue…. Pura Vida Harry

    1. Harry, Thanks for the comment. Yes, it’s been frustrating for the President and the Democrats to try and negotiate with the Republicans. It seems that every time they try to meet them part way, the Republicans move the goal posts. And if an agreement is reached, it’s short-term and they’re back shortly asking for more or the same things again, despite apparently having agreed to a compromise on them. John

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