Government shutdown no laughing matter
Unless some last-second maneuvering has averted it, the federal government will have shut down by the time you read this.
Your mail will still arrive, Social Security checks will continue to be sent, the military will stand guard and air traffic controllers will keep their eyes fixed to their radar screens. Those are considered essential services. But national parks and museums will lock their doors, federal loans will be frozen and myriad other services will cease.
After the last federal government shutdown, which stretched from Dec. 16, 1995, to Jan. 5, 1996, as President Bill Clinton and a Republican-controlled Congress squared off over the 1996 budget and conflicting priorities on the environment, education and Medicare spending, there were those who joked that Washington, D.C., largely closed shop, but the sun continued to rise, the sky did not fall and life pretty much continued as usual for most of us. Who needs the government anyway? You can rest fully assured you’ll be hearing that today and in the days ahead if this stalemate continues.
But this is no laughing matter. The last extended shutdown cost the federal government more than $1 billion, which is no small irony considering today’s shutdown is being spearheaded by the political party that makes a great deal of rhetorical noise about debt and deficits, even though the volume always seems to fall to levels of hushed whispers once they are in power. One study found $3.7 billion worth of federal contracts were negatively affected by the last shutdown.
An argument could be made the 1995-96 shutdown was driven by dug-in ideological divisions that couldn’t be resolved through standard legislative horse-trading. This shutdown, however, is of an entirely different stripe. As you more than likely know by now, the rabid tea party faction in the House of Representatives is demanding that the Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect today, be defunded or, at the very least, delayed. President Obama, Senate Democrats and more level-headed members of the GOP have correctly said this is folly – “Obamacare” was approved by Congress in 2010, signed into law, has withstood scrutiny by the U.S. Supreme Court, and Obama was re-elected last year by a fairly comfortable margin. Obamacare is not a “bill,” as some Republicans insist on calling it – it is a law, and the moment has arrived to implement it.
Shutting down the government or, even worse, damaging the country’s credit by not raising the debt ceiling a few weeks from now is harmful to all of us, but either act also seems enormously foolhardy for Republicans in the realm of pure politics. If there are problems with the Affordable Care Act, they can be fixed legislatively and, if the GOP one day attains sufficient numbers on Capitol Hill and has a president who wants to go along with it, the Affordable Care Act can be wiped off the books. It stands to reason that Republicans would hit the electoral jackpot if, indeed, Obamacare is the all-out catastrophe many of them claim it will be.
In the meantime, the more immediate calamity all of us face is a political party that, on the national level, has been hijacked by its most extreme elements and seems vastly more interested in creating havoc than crafting laws.
Whether you are a Republican or not, we will all be better off when the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and George H.W. Bush rediscovers pragmatism and moderation.