So the government has shut down. Now what? For my money, I’d be down for a Romero style zombie apocalypse, but seeing as that is unlikely, we may as well take this time to look at what’s going wrong in Washington.
For those of you not in the know, Congress has failed to do its primary task as a branch of the government and pass a budget for the next fiscal year. Fiscal years run from October 1 to September 30. Now Congress is responsible for many things throughout that year including passing laws, approving appointees to numerous government positions, and declaring war, but it’s most basic and important job is to decide how much money the United States will try to realistically spend in the next year on our many programs and agencies. Should they be unable to pass a budget, another option is to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR), which is a temporary fix to keep the US government running while Congress continues to hash out its differences.
For reference, our budget during the last fiscal year had total expenditures of $3.803 trillion dollars with total revenues of $2.902 trillion. This created a deficit of $901 billion dollars, which isn’t unheard of, especially with a still less than robust economy and our many military exploits the world over. The last time the United States ran a surplus budget was between fiscal 1998 and 2001 under the Clinton administration; a feat that has only happened eight times since the Great Depression. Our last shut-down was under Clinton in 1995 as well, when radical Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, refused to pass a budget or continuing resolution because of funding for Medicare, education, environment initiatives, and public health programs. Ironic coincidence? You can read more about that HERE.
Now I’m not going to try and explain everything that has happened in the last few weeks because you can find all that handy information HERE. My biggest concern with all of this is simple. Its been reiterated time and time again in the last few days. The radical right wing of the House of Representatives is attempting to insert language into their budget proposal that would either delay or defund The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. The ACA revises insurance coverage, not one’s health care except to the extent that insurance is now available to all to pay for health care, regardless of the propaganda from the far-right GOP. Never mind that Obamacare has been a law for three years now and has been upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court. Never mind that the American people had their opportunity to reject Obamacare during the last election, but instead overwhelmingly re-elected President Obama. John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, and their ilk are holding the American people hostage based on “their” belief that the malicious big brothernment™ is out to take your freedom.
Look, I get it; you don’t want the federal government telling you what to do. That’s your belief and you’re completely entitled to that opinion. My beef, however, is when your belief in the “rugged individualism” of Americans impinges upon those who are less fortunate than you to get the help and services they need. Also when it puts 800,000 people either out of work or sent to work without pay, how do you think they’re enjoying that sense of “rugged individualism?” In a very recent argument with some friends, one reiterated the Fox talking point that this isn’t so much a shutdown as it is a “slimdown.” He said we were finally running a sane budget (i.e. None) and that if people were “non-essential” then why do we have them in the first place? If I could have reached through the Internet, I probably would have slapped the guy.
Nonessential spending includes people who work at agencies like national parks, the Smithsonian, the Center for Disease Control, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the National Institute for Health (NIH), the FDA, the EPA, and many others. If you don’t care about the arts, culture, nature, disease prevention, feeding low income mothers and their children, future cancer research and clinical trials for the better treatment of millions of Americans, clean food and air and water, then yeah, the shutdown doesn’t affect anyone.
The government shutdown is now in its second day and odds are this will all blow over soon enough with no significant damage to the economy. Should it persist, because Congress is unable to pass an increase in the debt ceiling … well then we’ll be in largely uncharted waters as the U.S. defaults for the first time. The concept of the U.S. dollar remaining the world’s reserve currency will come into serious question across the globe. We’ll save that post for when and if it happens. Far Right House Republicans, just like in 1995, are simply using the budget as a means to try and get what they want. In this case it’s either the defunding or delay of a law that has already been on the books for three years. I know sometimes laws you don’t like pass and you want to try and amend them or repeal them, but this is at the expense of far too many far poorer citizens in need of what the Affordable Care Act offers. I can only hope for two things now. First, that Congress will soon pass either a new budget or continuing resolution, which means it won’t touch the Affordable Healthcare Act. And second, as in 1996, that come our next midterm election a year from now, Congress is looking a little bluer.