The federal government, as I’m sure you all know by now, was forced to shut down today, over conflicts arising from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, better know as Obamacare. All government services deemed “non-essential” in accordance with the Antideficiency Act, were suspended, and more than 818,000 federal workers were furloughed, meaning that they were told to stay home without pay until such time that Congress is able to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government.
Here, by way of background, is an email sent out this afternoon by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, explaining how we got here.
Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to solve a real, honest-to-God problem.
Our health care system was broken. 48 million people in this country had no health insurance. Women couldn’t get access to cancer screenings. People with diabetes were denied health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. People with cancer hit the caps on their health insurance spending. And health spending in this country was growing far too fast.
So we worked hard, we compromised, and we came up with a solution. A solution that will substantially improve the lives of millions of Americans – because that’s the way a democracy works.
It’s time to end the debate about whether the Affordable Care Act should exist and whether it should be funded.
Congress voted for this law. President Obama signed this law. The Supreme Court upheld this law. The President ran for reelection on this law. His opponent said he would repeal it – and his opponent lost by five million votes.
Right now, Republicans are taking the government and the economy hostage, threatening serious damage to both unless the President agrees to gut the Affordable Care Act. For days, they even tried to change the law so that employers can deny women access to birth control coverage.
I am the mother of a daughter and the grandmother of granddaughters. I will never vote to let a group of backward-looking ideologues cut women’s access to birth control. We have lived in that world, and we are not going back. Not ever.
I see things like this and I wonder what alternate reality some of my colleagues are living in.
So let me be very clear about what is happening in the real world: The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Millions of people are counting on it – people who need health care coverage, people who need insurance policies that don’t disappear just when they are sickest.
The law is here to stay, and it will stay.
Now the government is shut down. We haven’t fixed the sequester because of all the obstruction. We haven’t finished a budget because of all the obstruction. We haven’t even passed a single appropriations bill because of all the obstruction.
The least we can do – the bare minimum we can do – would be to pass a “continuing resolution” to open the doors back up and turn the lights back on. We could ensure that over a million federal workers aren’t staying home for no reason. We could end the government shutdown.
But the Republicans have refused to do even that. They have shuttered the government unless the President agreed to de-fund the Affordable Care Act.
The threats may continue, but they are not working and they never will. In a democracy, hostage tactics are the last resort for those who can’t win their fights through elections, can’t win their fights in Congress, can’t win their fights for the Presidency, and can’t win their fights in Courts.
For this right-wing minority, hostage-taking is all they have left – a last gasp of those who cannot cope with the realities of our democracy.
The time has come for those legislators who cannot cope with the reality of our democracy to get out of the way – so that those of us in BOTH parties can get back to working on solving the real problems faced by the American people.
We have real work to do.
[Brilliant video of Elizabeth Warren saying pretty much the same thing on the floor of the Senate, just as the shutdown was going into effect, can be found here. If you only watch one video today, make this the one.]
This, in other words, despite what you might be hearing in the media, is not just another instance of Washington gridlock. This isn’t a case of two intractable factions going head-to-head to the detriment of society. This is about the GOP refusing, after over 40 unsuccessful attempts to kill Obamacare, to accept that it really exists, and that there’s no legal recourse left to them. As Warren notes, it was passed in accordance with law and it was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States. It is, as she says, “the law of the land.” And, yet, because a certain faction within the Republican party doesn’t agree with it, they’ve decided to bring our nation to its knees, putting our tenuous economic recovery in jeopardy and setting in motion a series of unwelcome events that will reverberate for years.
Among other things, I was just reading that, because of the shutdown, the NIH has stopped accepting patients for clinical trials, and the NASA Mars mission has been delayed until 2016. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here in Michigan, our State’s budget director is estimating that this gambit by Republicans in Congress will cost us approximately $18 million per day… funds, by the way, which we require to run Michigan’s food stamp and school lunch programs. So, it’s not just the families of the 818,000 federal workers who will feel “a little bit of discomfort” for a day or two. All of us will be effected by this, for years to come. (For those of you in academia, there’s an interesting conversation between scientists taking place right now on Reddit about how this shutdown will alter funding cycles and negatively impact their research, even after just one day.)
People, over the last 24 hours, have been searching for analogies that will resonate with people across the United States, many of whom, sadly, don’t even know what the Affordable Care Act really says. One of the best, which can be seen below, came from Jon Stewart, who told his audience that it’s like if the New York Giants had demanded 25 more points at the end of their most recent defeat, and threatened to destroy the NFL unless they got their way. My favorite analogy, however, comes from the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, who had the following to say.
…In May 2007, 140 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to defund the Iraq war. In September of the same year, Congress voted to increase the debt limit. Imagine if Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats had threatened to breach the debt ceiling unless Republicans agreed to defund the war. At that time, approval of the Iraq war was polled at 33% in favor and 64% against…
Can you imagine how the Republicans would have reacted had the Democrats shut down the government at that time? Pelosi and those who supported her would have been tried for treason. I can almost guarantee it. But, in this case, it’s somehow acceptable, because, I guess, Obama didn’t immediately offer to gut the Affordable Care Act upon hearing that the the Tea Party contingent in Congress didn’t like what the democratic process had given them… And that’s a point worth reiterating. As much as I dislike John Boehner, it’s really just the Tea Party folks that we’re talking about here. The leadership of the Republican party, as far as I can tell, knows that the debt ceiling needs to be lifted, but they just can’t find a way to get the obstructionists in line. Here, with more on that, is another clip from Ezra Klein.
…Boehner isn’t really in control of his House conference, and he has no idea how to get out of this. Remember, Boehner’s initial preference was to simply fund the government. His members forced him to accept Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s defunding plan. After the Senate rejected Cruz’s plan, Boehner again wanted to simply fund the government. He lost again. As the National Review’s Robert Costa reported, “For now, Boehner doesn’t have a plan beyond passing this resolution and waiting to see what happens.”
But we all share blame is this.
What did we expect would happen when we elected people, who openly profess to hate government, to run it?
Of course this was the inevitable outcome.
And, with that, I give you this clip from Esquire’s Charles Pierce, who thinks that this particular strain of mental illness can be traced all the way back to the Reagan administration.
…This is what they came to Washington to do — to break the government of the United States. It doesn’t matter any more whether they’re doing it out of pure crackpot ideology, or at the behest of the various sugar daddies that back their campaigns, or at the instigation of their party’s mouthbreathing base. It may be any one of those reasons. It may be all of them. The government of the United States, in the first three words of its founding charter, belongs to all of us, and these people have broken it deliberately. The true hell of it, though, is that you could see this coming down through the years, all the way from Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural Address in which government “was” the problem, through Bill Clinton’s ameliorative nonsense about the era of big government being “over,” through the attempts to make a charlatan like Newt Gingrich into a scholar and an ambitious hack like Paul Ryan into a budget genius, and through all the endless attempts to find “common ground” and a “Third Way.” Ultimately, as we all wrapped ourselves in good intentions, a prion disease was eating away at the country’s higher functions. One of the ways you can acquire a prion disease is to eat right out of its skull the brains of an infected monkey. We are now seeing the country reeling and jabbering from the effects of the prion disease, but it was during the time of Reagan that the country ate the monkey brains…
I noted treason before. Here, for those of you who are unaware of the concept, is the definition:
“Under Article III, Section 3, of the Constitution, any person who levies war against the United States or adheres to its enemies by giving them Aid and Comfort has committed treason within the meaning of the Constitution. The term aid and comfort refers to any act that manifests a betrayal of allegiance to the United States, such as furnishing enemies with arms, troops, transportation, shelter, or classified information. If a subversive act has any tendency to weaken the power of the United States to attack or resist its enemies, aid and comfort has been given.”
Maybe I’m missing something, but wouldn’t shutting down the government during a time of war, and sending 400,000 Defense Department employees home, “weaken the power of the United States to attack or resist its enemies”? Cutting the Defense Department in half certainly doesn’t increase our power to attack and resist enemies, does it? I don’t know if we have any legal scholars in the audience, but I’d love to hear informed opinions as to why what we’re now seeing unfold in D.C. isn’t considered treason.
Maybe it’s a can of worms that we just don’t want to open up, but I’m of the opinion that events, such as the ones we’re witnessing now, call for drastic measures. And I think we’ve pussyfooted around the Tea Party long enough. It’s a cancer to our democracy and it needs to be dealt with now, while we can still salvage what’s left of our country. I know I’ll likely be called an alarmist, but to not take swift action now, in my opinion, is to invite civil war later. Like it or not, that’s where this is heading.
In conclusion, here’s one last relevant quote. This one comes form The New Yorker’s John Cassidy.
…Still, there are some worrying parallels. Like their forebears in places like France, Italy, and Germany, a good number of American conservatives sincerely believe that their government has ignored their wishes and betrayed not just them but the very notion of Americanness. History suggests this is a dangerous road to go down. Once an elected government is deemed illegitimate, in whatever sense, normal democratic politics, with its give and take, is difficult to sustain. And that, of course, is what we are now witnessing. On parts of the right, policies on issues such as immigration, gun control, and health-care reform are no longer viewed on their individual merits. They are all part of a Manichean struggle over the future of America. And with the first non-white President nine months into his second term, at least some G.O.P. activists and media incendiaries have infused the fight with a very personal and vindictive tone…
So, that’s where we are today… teetering on the edge of collapse, waiting for Boehner and the Republican powers-that-be to finally stand up to monkey-brain-eating lunatics in their party, and force them to either get in line, or go back to selling snake oil, or whatever it was that they did before. I’m not optimistic. I think we may have already missed our window. I think the cancer may have already spread too far. I guess we’ll see tomorrow whether this is the end of the Tea Party, or our country. One or the other, in my opinion, is inevitable at this point.
In the meantime, here’s Jon Stewart to make us see the whole thing as one big, hilarious joke.