We’re in day 5 of the U.S. government shutdown. God knows I’ve certainly had plenty of time this week to blog about it, given that I’ve been stuck at home while my USGS facility is shuttered. I honestly just haven’t known where to begin, though, as there are SO many “blog-worthy” topics related to the shutdown.
John Boehner – DC Politician – John Boehner and his role in the shutdown perfectly summarize what D.C. politics has become. It’s not about serving Americans or doing what’s “right”. It’s not about governing. It’s about the next election, period. It’s definitely not a stretch to say that more than any other shutdown, more than any other manufactured political “crisis”, the majority of the blame rests on just one man’s shoulders. In September, Harry Reid and John Boehner had an agreement that a “clean” CR would be supported by both the Senate and House, at the lower “sequester” level of spending, if no other agreement were reached. Boehner’s completely lost ANY trust Reid may have had, as obviously Boehner reversed his position as October drew near. On the one hand, there may be a tendency to feel a bit of sympathy for Boehner, given the hand he’s been dealt. He’s trying to preside over a Republican caucus with an element that’s more interested in destroying government than it is in actually governing. Any sympathy for the man is completely overwhelmed though by disgust over his priorities. As 3rd in succession to the presidency, it’s appalling that Boehner can put his own political future over the well-being of the country. It’s appalling that Boehner cares more about preserving his Speakership than he does about the American economy, or those that depend upon government programs. John Boehner, you ARE the face of this shutdown.
Legitimacy of the Obama Presidency - Look at the headlines this week and you’d be rightfully confused as to the reasons Republicans have led this shutdown. Obamacare? That was the initial stated reason for the shutdown, that Repubs are trying “protect” America from the “harmful” effects of the Affordable Care Act (more on that in a second). It only took a day or two though before Republicans were either quoted as saying they just want SOME seemingly random concession from Obama, or have pivoted to state the shutdown is about fiscal policy overall. Bullshit. The shutdown is about one issue…Republican denial of the legitimacy of the Obama presidency. Even on election day, when polls showed Obama would win rather easily, Republican pundits, the right-wing “media”, and Romney himself were CONFIDENT in a victory. Republicans just don’t recognize that it’s even a POSSIBILITY that Americans would favor Democrat’s ideology and political platform. In 2012, Democrats won the presidency…Democrats defended nearly every “at-risk” Senate seat (even winning in “red” states like North Dakota…and Democrats had 1 million more votes for the House than did Republicans. Thanks to ridiculously gerry-mandered House districts, Republicans (unfairly) maintain control of the House, but from the last election, it’s quite obvious who “won”. It’s quite obvious whose agenda voters favored. Despite this, Republicans STILL don’t recognize the legitimacy of a Obama presidency. This more than ANYTHING is why Obama and Democrats need to stand firm against Republican blackmail attempts. ELECTIONS MUST MEAN SOMETHING. MAJORITY RULE MUST BE MAINTAINED. Obama simply can’t allow a minority party to destroy the democratic process. There’s one hell of a lot more at stake here than just the future of Obama, or Obamacare.
Obamacare itself - There’s been one issue Republicans have paid little attention to this week…Obamacare itself. Isn’t this the supposed reason for the shutdown? However, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act “exchanges”, despite the supposed role the ACA is playing in the shutdown, Republicans have been remarkably quiet on the ACA itself, for at least 2 reasons. First, as noted above, it’s obvious the shutdown is NOT about the ACA. Secondly…Republicans have to be dismayed about the rollout this week. Their entire political platform seems to be based on American’s supposed hatred of the ACA. Their political strategy behind the shutdown is based on negative poll numbers about the ACA itself, even as Americans say shuttering the government is an unacceptable way to fight ACA implementation. However, the health care exchanges have seen incredible demand after opening this week, with servers unable to handle the load of millions of interested Americans. Republicans are seeing their entire party platform melt away. Yes, there have been issues with implementation this week, but there’s obviously demand for affordable health care. It’s one hell of a perilous position to be in for Republicans, seen as the party of “no”, a party without a plan for governing, a party that seems more interested in STOPPING Americans from getting affordable health care than it is in improving the health care system.
Right-wing Media Coverage – I hesitate to call it “news” or the “media”, but it’s been downright laughable how Fox News and other right-wing media have covered the shutdown. Or, should I say “slimdown”, as Fox News refers to it. Blaring headlines on Fox News this week either refer to it as the “Liberal Shutdown” or “Obama’s Shutdown” as they attempt to shift blame away from Boehner and Republicans. Can you imagine ANY mainstream media site consistently blaring headlines such as “Boehner’s Shutdown” or “Republican Shutdown” when referring to this story? MSNBC is obviously the liberal version of Fox News, but at least they TRY to maintain some semblance of neutrality. As much as Republicans like to complain about the “liberal media”, you certainly won’t see such blatantly political headlines on CNN, the New York Times, or Washington Post. Can you imagine the outcry from the right if the New York Times preceded every shutdown-related news story with a headline containing “Republican Shutdown”? If I were any kind of a serious journalist, I’d be damned embarrassed to be associated with Fox News, no matter my political persuasion.
Photo Op Week! – 10%. That’s the approval rating for Congress right now, and this week makes it pretty damned easy to see why. Republicans know they’re losing the PR battle, and their major focus this week has been to try to shift blame for the shutdown to Obama, Harry Reid, and Democrats in general. The strategy has led to some of the most despicable “photo op” events imaginable. Republicans have refused to even bring up a “clean” continuing resolution, even though it WOULD pass in the House and the shutdown would be over. The GOP-led House has obviously caused the shutdown, yet Republican House members have tried to pin blame for the pain and inconvenience of the shutdown on Democrats. The National Park Service is part of the Department of Interior, same as my U.S. Geological Survey. We’re all shut down, which means all facilities managed by the Park Service are shut down. Incredulously this week, Republicans have tried to play up the shutdown of Parks, Memorials, and Monuments by claiming Obama himself shut them down. Hence scenes like the ones on the Washington Mall, where Michelle Bachman has her arm around a wheelchair-bound World War II vet, while both simultaneously talking about Republican support for re-opening monuments, and blaming Obama for the lack of access. In another widely publicized photo-op, a Republican House member is seen loudly berating a poor National Park Ranger for blocking access…even though it’s the Republican House that is causing this shutdown and has blocked funding for National Parks. I’m not a violent man. Other than fights with my evil twin brother growing up, I’ve never been in a physical confrontation in my life. However, if I were on the National Mall this week and had come across something like the staged Michelle Bachmann photo op, I would have had a hell of a hard time not going up to her and trying to slap some sense into her.
Real-world Fallout – So far, the media coverage of the fallout from the shutdown has focused on relatively minor issues, such as the National Mall access. There have been a few stories on NIH-funded activities grinding to a halt, patients in clinical trials who have been left out in the cold, etc., but overall, coverage of the effects of shuttered government services has been pretty spotty so far. That will obviously change as the shutdown drags on, and the negative effects become more pronounced. What will likely NOT be covered in detail are the longer-term economic effects. It’s easy to see the direct effects of government offices being closed, of services not being provided. What’s more difficult to see and quantify are economic effects on those directly or indirectly dependent upon government programs and facilities. Hotels, restaurants, and other businesses around National Parks are obviously hurting, as are businesses near large government facilities. While there are about 800,000 Federal employees currently furloughed, there are many times that number of government contractors who are currently sidelined. Where I work at USGS, we have about 650 total employees, with about 470 of those being contractors. Those contractors are NOT being paid during the shutdown, and will not receive retroactive back pay. They’re being told they can use vacation, IF they have enough, or leave-without-pay. For a shutdown that looks like it will last a minimum of 2 weeks, that’s a damned big economic impact, particularly if you compound that impact across all Federal contractors.
The End Game – I hate to say it, given the serious repercussions for not raising the debt limit, but THANK GOD October 17th is the stated debt-limit deadline. As hell-bent as Republicans seem to be on destroying Obama and government in general, it’s hard to see them crossing this line and letting the U.S. government default on its debt obligations. Thanks to the October 17th deadline, it’s hard not to see government funding and the debt limit being tied together in some eventual legislation. Seeing how entrenched both sides are, it’s also obvious though that we’re going to push right up against that deadline before government is re-opened, and before the debt-limit is raised. My guess? We’ll see a lot more bluster and posturing this weekend, with little to no progress. But as we move through next week, the pressure to make some sort of deal is dramatically ratcheted up. So…we’re going to be looking at about a 2-week shutdown. So far, dates floated for a continuing resolution would fund the government through either November 15 or December 15. Given Republican’s insistence on governing through blackmail…perhaps we can look forward to another round of this crap in just another month or two!