Debate: Who is to blame for the US government shutdown?
Photo Credit/ Martin Child and filo
Section Editor's Note: While this issue has since been resolved, for historical purposes we have still chosen to add this debate to our opinion section.
The Republican dominated US house of Representative and the Democrat controlled US senate are currently at odds as the two cannot agree on a budget-the Republican plan does not include funding for the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care). Consequently, the government has lost its legal authority to spend and thus has had to shut down a number of its programs. The shutdown has angered much of the American public, but who ultimately is to blame for this problem. Jack Grobe argues its the Tea Party wing of the Republican party, with its lack of willingness to compromise. Charles Lamy, however, believes that the shut-down is an unnecessary manipulation orchestrated by the Obama administration to delegitimize its opponents.
Blame the Tea Party
By: Jack Grobe
As I write this, the American government is being held hostage. The radical right-wing of the centre-right Republican Party has orchestrated a government shutdown in order to accomplish one major goal: repealing the Affordable Care Act a.k.a. Obamacare. House Speaker John Boenher (R) stated in September: “The American people don't want the government shut down, and they don't want Obamacare."
Mr. Boenher is only right on the first matter however. This shutdown has infuriated Americans who feel, rightly, embarrassed in the face of world criticism and enraged at what is seen as more inaction on the part of Congress. Three out of every four Americans oppose the shutdown over the Affordable Care Act. Democrats and Independents are firmly against the shutdown along with nearly half of Republicans. Even some Americans who oppose the Affordable Care Act, oppose the shutdown.
The reason for this opposition is the cost of the shutdown. So far the shutdown has cost a total of $1.6 billion, mostly in lost income for business. That is a daily cost of $160 million, down from the earlier daily figure of $300 million. Almost 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or temporarily laid off, loans are not being made to business, and federal permits cannot be granted. That is just the monetary damage. Many federal agencies are running on bare bones staff. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has had to bring back ten staff members to deal with a Salmonella outbreak that left over 100 people hospitalized and twice that number sick. Even more serious could be the furloughs at the NSA and CIA, leaving both agencies unable to adequately face security threats and domestic terrorism.
When it comes to the latter half of the above statement, Mr. Boehner is dead wrong. Over half of Americans, about 66%, support the Affordable Care Act. That fact, coupled with a lack of Republican alternative to the Act, probably means that it should be left alone. Yet, despite public support and the upholding of the Affordable Care Act by the Supreme Court over the summer, the Republicans have still tried to defund or repeal the Act over 40 times since 2010.
As this highly unpopular shutdown was engineered in order to defund a popular program; it is not hard to see that this shutdown will harm the Republican Party in the 2014 midterm elections. If nothing else, this shutdown is evidence of the greediness of the Tea Party. Since the 2010 midterm election that brought them to power, the Tea Party has secured major concessions from the Democrats and moderate Republicans. In terms of the Federal budget, the Tea Party has already won. The discretionary spending section of the budget has dropped by huge numbers and those changes have been accepted by the Democrats. The 2014 budget approved by Senate Democrats has a discretionary allowance of $1.058 trillion. Compare that to the 2012 budget proposed by Tea Party member Paul Ryan (R) of the House. That budget was lambasted as draconian and too deep of a cut. Yet, it contained a discretionary allowance of $1.062 trillion. That is $4 billion more than what the Democrats themselves passed.
The Tea Party now however, has gone too far. While Americans supported their budget efforts, their attacks on the Affordable Care Act went too far, and now have gone even further than too far! This shutdown is a hostage situation designed by the Tea Party as a method for doing away with the Affordable Care Act, regardless of the opinions of the American people. It is an unpopular move to attack a popular program and should therefore have never been done.
Blame Obama and his allies
By: Charles Lamy
President Obama is a remarkable campaigner who has successfully learned the lesson of the 2010 midterm elections: campaigning must never cease. The permanent campaign was the key to his re-election. Now the President is campaigning to blame Congressional Republicans for the present government shutdown. It is a gamble that requires the shutdown to be painful and elongated enough for the GOP to become sufficiently cannibalistic to defeat itself.
The crux of the President’s campaign is to convince the public that the Republicans have “shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny health insurance to millions of Americans.” But the Republicans did not shut down the government, the Democrats did. The House of Representatives passed the Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014, which would fund the government for the next fiscal year at current levels of spending and included an amendment to defund Obamacare. This amendment was unsurprisingly stripped from the bill when received by the Senate. However, President Obama then called Speaker Boehner and stated that the Democrats would not negotiate on the Senate bill. The next day the President began a campaign tour declaiming Republican intransigence.
This is a breach of Presidential precedent. Since Franklin Roosevelt’s reshaping of the Presidency it has become an expectation that the national executive be actively involved in essential budgetary negotiations. Instead, Obama is campaigning. The Republicans are ready to compromise, having proposed and passed new amendments to delay Obamacare by one year and repeals its 2.3% tax on medical devices. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid upheld the President’s refusal to negotiate. The Republicans have conceded the tax repeal and asked only for the delay, but Senator Reid still ignores their calls for compromise. It is President Obama, alongside the congressional Democrats, who are treading new and dangerous waters in refusing to negotiate with congressional Republicans.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s campaign is trying to convince midterm voters that Republicans are lost in “an ideological crusade.” If we move past the shocking revelation that parties tend to pursue ideological goals, are Republican demands in fact unreasonable?
Obamacare continues to be very unpopular; the aggregated polling numbers since September show 40%-51.1% disapproval. Further, the administration’s Centre for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported last week that Obamacare will “increase cumulative health spending by roughly $621 billion” by 2022. A Forbes editorial calculated that this is an increase of $7450 in health care spending per family of four! The average family cannot afford to shoulder this burden. We should also remember that the President had promised that his health reform law would reduce health spending of the average family of four by $2500. It may be reassuring to view the Republicans as ideological hounds divorced from reality, but their positions are supported by sound economics and the demands of the American people.
Among the partisan cries of outrage is the oft-repeated phrase: “this is the first government shutdown in 17 years!” While true, this is a distortion of the larger historical fact. There have been eighteen government shutdowns since 1976. These shutdowns were especially commonplace during the leadership of Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neil, who forced eleven shutdowns during his ten-year tenure. These shutdowns were forced to extract concessions from Presidents Carter and Reagan, but Speaker O’Neil was not charged with “holding America hostage” or “holding a gun to America’s head.” Never was the patriotism of the Speaker, nor the legitimacy of his tactics for budgetary compromise put in question.
The American system of government was founded with the hope that a single faction could not become sufficiently powerful to unilaterally impose its agenda on the weaker elements. Compromise is not tradition by error but by decree. America’s legislators and executives have since heeded the intent of the Founding Fathers, save for the odd incompetent or impotent administration mishandling Congress. If Obama wishes to have such a positive legacy he may do so, but not at the expense of harming his country or its democratic practices.