Last week, I wrote that the Republican Party’s antics on the debt ceiling debate were a serious threat to the party’s image. After a 21-hour speech by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in an attempt to block a Senate vote on a “clean” funding bill, it was clear that the GOP intended to hold the government hostage to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Despite how many times Senator Cruz read Green Eggs and Ham to an empty Senate, I wrote that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) would never in his wildest dreams double down on a shutdown when the Senate inevitably sent back a funding bill that stripped the ACA-defunding provisions.
I was dead wrong. Like Lane Kiffin’s addiction to the screen pass on third-and-long, the Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for the 43rd, 44th and 45th time to defund Obamacare, and a government shutdown was the inevitable result.
There is a lot to be said about the shutdown of nonessential services that began at midnight Tuesday. The non-confrontational types who refuse to point fingers because they fear, ironically, that they are playing into the partisan politics that have plagued us for years, will wonder why we can’t all get along. I should know — until two nights ago, I was one of them.
I wrote in my inaugural column nearly two months ago that disagreement should be productive. In other words, parties retreating to corners and not coming to the negotiating table is the ultimate failure of politics. I wish I could say the same now — that the solution to the government shutdown is to come to the negotiating table and hammer out our differences — but I can’t.
It defies common sense to say that we should “negotiate” over A) funding the government, and B) implementing a law that was passed by Congress, signed by the president, declared constitutional by the Supreme Court and then verified in a national presidential election that was in many ways a referendum on the law itself (spoiler alert — the GOP lost by five million votes).
On this issue, there can be no negotiation. House Republicans have grossly abused their constitutional power to originate funding bills, and made a steaming mess of an already broken system.
There are millions without work in the United States. Student loans are crushing college students under piles of debt. Folks on food stamps and children in Early Head Start, a child development program, face deep cuts to that facilities they need so much. In the midst of it all, Republicans have decided the most important issue (besides “voter fraud,” of course) is a woman’s access to birth control and protecting insurance companies from children with pre-existing conditions. Furthermore, they’re willing to shut down the government for it.
Most ironic of all is that despite the closing of the Smithsonian, the furloughing of thousands of government employees and the turning off of the Panda Cam at the National Zoo, the ACA is still being implemented. The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that the government websites where consumers can now purchase insurance opened without any impact at all from the government shutdown.
Let the facts speak for themselves: A Quinnipiac national poll released Tuesday shows 72 percent of American voters oppose Congress shutting down the government in their effort to block implementation of the law. According to the poll, voters also chose a Democratic candidate over a Republican candidate 43 percent to 34 percent in a generic ballot, the widest Democratic margin measured so far for the 2014 elections.
This is only round one. Remember that thing called the debt ceiling? That’s the limit on federal borrowing that must be raised by Oct. 17, when the federal government will literally run out of money to pay its bills and default on every payment from bonds to social security. Unlike the government shutdown, which has happened before (most recently in 1995), this could be a collapse of apocalyptic proportions, and the Republicans in the House have a list of demands waiting to hold that negotiation hostage, too.
It’s slash and burn guerilla tactics at its finest. According to Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning economist, “Once [Obama] starts making concessions to people who threaten to blow up the world economy unless they get what they want, he might as well tear up the Constitution.”
The backward-looking ideologues who make up today’s Republican Party might do both. Our house is divided when it lets disagreement impede policy progress. Today, our house is divided because it has stopped caring about the people who elected it. Like Lane Kiffin, House Republicans might be looking for a new job next season.
Nathaniel Haas is a sophomore majoring in economics and political science. His column “A House Divided” runs Thursdays.
Follow Nathaniel on Twitter @Haas4Prez2036