Walt Laws-MacDonald | Show Me the Money
Shut it down
Published: Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 7, 2013 01:10
You see? You see, Republicans? This is why we can’t have nice things!”
In the latest hiccup in Congress’s eternal fight for money, the United States government has shut down. Though Congress — barely — got past the debt ceiling and fiscal cliff, they have once again decided that the country’s budget can be used as a bargaining chip. A bargaining chip that costs $3.8 trillion. And people say that the stock market is like gambling...
Obamacare — the eponymous universal healthcare act pushed by President Obama — lies at the heart of this budget fight. The bill, officially the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” in part calls for higher Medicare and insurance taxes on the wealthy to provide government-subsidized health insurance to millions of Americans who currently do not have any insurance.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that Obamacare will cost almost $1.9 trillion over its first ten years, a figure that opponents of the bill love to throw around. Though the CBO predicts Obamacare will actually reduce the deficit, its cost cannot be ignored.
So what happens when you take a bill the President campaigned on, a Democratic Senate, a Republican House, an astonishingly high deficit and a legislative branch that already operates at an excruciatingly slow pace? Gridlocked legislation and padlocked national monuments.
In order for the federal government to maintain normal operations, Congress needed to pass a “continuing resolution” — essentially a temporary budget agreement — before Oct. 1, the first day of the Congressional fiscal year. The House only passed continuing resolutions that either stripped Obamacare of funding or delayed its launch, but the Senate sent both measures back.
House Republicans — and more specifically, Tea Party Republicans — have ground the federal government to a halt over Obamacare. Though the fight makes sense — universal healthcare is exactly the sort of “big government” policy they fight against — the fight seems to have finished months ago.
The bill was passed by both the House and the Senate, signed into law, taken to the Supreme Court and deemed constitutional — no thanks to Justice Antonin “Can’t scare me I have life tenure” Scalia. As Jon Stewart put it in his takedown of the shutdown: it’s a f***ing law.
Government shutdowns are one of the “automatic” provisions programmed into the budget fight — sort of like last year’s sequester issue. Shutting down the government is not a typical policy tool — the last shutdown occurred 17 years ago, during the heyday of slap bracelets, Hillary Clinton’s husband and dreamy frosted-tips Justin Timberlake.
Since Oct. 1, the nation’s largest employer has kept millions of its workers at home. The shutdown hits all services deemed “non-essential,” affecting workers across the country from National Park rangers to doctors tracking influenza at the CDC. Though the shutdown miraculously has some supporters, just about everyone agrees that it is not the way to deal with the problem at hand.
Extremists on both sides of the aisle have made talking about — not even fixing — the problem incredibly hard. The principles of Obamacare are ingrained in the ideologies of both parties in completely opposite ways.
Ironically, Congress will continue to be paid during the shutdown. So that’s good.
The lights will not come back on until Congress is able to pass a new continuing resolution. Until then, everything from the Smithsonian Zoo to workers that process Social Security and Veterans care payments will remain off. In a wry way, the Tea Party has proven its point: our government is huge and incredibly expensive. We’ll see how far proving a point gets them.
Walt Laws-MacDonald is a junior majoring in quantitative economics. He can be reached at Walt.Laws_Macdonald@tufts.edu.