At press time, it was unclear whether Congress would finally evade a government shutdown on October 1. I do know, however, that I am sick of the budgetary brinkmanship that plagues our government. Every few months there is some crisis or another that has the House of Representatives and the White House at loggerheads. This time, Republicans in Congress want to defund Obamacare as part of the budget that must be passed and say they are willing to let government close to meet their goal. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid says that Republicans are holding a gun to the American people’s heads and he isn’t lying.
It doesn’t stop on October 1. The back-and-forth exists because Congress has not passed a budget the way it normally does since 2009. Now, government operates through a series of continuing resolutions that make it difficult for federal departments to know how much they have to spend. And if Congress passes an agreement to keep government open, it will only keep it open through November or December 15, depending on which version (House or Senate) of the law passes.
Another upcoming deadline is the October 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling or further imperil our once-solid credit rating. In each instance, Republicans have another opportunity to crow about their fiscal mindedness and argue about Obamacare. But, as Harry Reid has said, Obamacare is the law of the land. It takes effect October 1, government shutdown or not. The Republican House may despise Obamacare and they may change some provisions of it, but they can’t stop it now.
Indeed, Republicans are gearing up for the debt ceiling debate, which is another opportunity for brinksmanship. If they remove the Affordable Care Act from negotiations, it will surely resurface when the debt ceiling is discussed. We can spend the rest of this year, and part of next, with this budgetary brinkmanship, all driven by the fact that many Republicans simply cannot stand the notion of the Affordable Care Act.
Actually, it’s not just about the Affordable Care Act, it is about President Obama and Republican resistance to anything he proposes. Their attitudes go beyond partisanship to venomous distaste. You’d have to go back to the nineteenth century to find members of Congress so rude as to holler out “you lie” as a President spoke, assertions that that thing would happen “over my dead body” are far more common. It has always amused me when people so quickly offer their dead bodies up for discussion, as if they so lightly value their living bodies that they’d offer their dead one in the name of public policy. Just recently, Rand Paul said the federal government would bail out Detroit over his dead body, and years ago Dick Armey (R-TX) said the minimum wage would pass over his. Last I heard the minimum wage rose and Armey is still living, though no longer in Congress.
If the government does shut down, “nonessential” employees will not be paid. The bumbling Congress, however, will continue to be compensated for the little they do. Many Congressional representatives don’t care because they don’t need the money. A large percentage of our “lawmakers” are millionaires. Last time there was a government shutdown, people were paid retroactively. This time, back pay is unlikely. With so many government employees experiencing pay cuts because of furloughs, an additional pay cut is onerous. Congress seems unconcerned with the plight of the average government worker.
The only good news in this mess is that the American people aren’t stupid. Most of them blame gridlock on House Republicans. The last time government shut down in 1995-96 (when two shut downs lasted a combined 26 days), the people responded by giving President Bill Clinton a second term nine months later. Clinton defeated rival Bob Dole in part because of Dole’s leadership in the government shutdown. With 2014 mid-term elections imminent, Republicans should be worried. When President Obama spoke at the Congressional Black Caucus dinner in late September, he asked people to gear up their activism for the 2014 elections. If the House of Representatives looked more like the Senate (or if more Republicans had good sense), perhaps we could avoid this constant budgetary brinkmanship that has plagued us for the past four years.
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.