Well, today’s the day. We either have a functioning government, or we don’t.
One of the problems with writing columns in advance of events is that one doesn’t know the exact shape of things to come. However, from the vantage point of Sunday, it looks like we’ll be watching federal offices hang out the “Gone fishin’” signs. Which is a shame, because it was all so avoidable. All congressional democrats and the president had to do was compromise.
You read that right. This flirtation with closing the government, and the more significant one which will come in two weeks, can be laid at the feet of the Democratic Party. Their Republican colleagues were perfectly willing to fund everything — even the $376 million for a second Oval Office while the original is being renovated, $7 million in unemployment benefits for federal prisoners and $3.5 million for storage of unused Transportation Security Administration equipment. But not the Affordable Care Act. Spending to implement “Obamacare” was the sole omission from the continuing resolution they sent to the Senate.
With senior Obama advisors decrying Republican “terrorism” and the president threatening a veto should the law come to him, the measure was defeated on a mostly party-line Senate vote last Friday, so back to the House it went. There, after some wrangling, Republicans moderated their position, again offering to fund the entire government with a stipulation that the implementation of Obamacare be delayed for a year to work out some of the more obvious kinks.
This time, majority leader Harry Reid didn’t even wait for the brief deliberation. Once again howling about Republican “obstructionism,” he promised to defeat the new bill — without even bothering to read it. Evidently, long-term membership in Congress has a deleterious effect on one’s memory. The last time that august body acted on an important bill without checking the contents, we ended up in this situation. Now were are faced with exactly the same attitude from exactly the same party. And it isn’t the Republicans.
What’s happening isn’t “intransigence.” It isn’t “obstructionism.” It isn’t “a defense of stupid and vile people.” Or “a cancer on humanity.” It isn’t “terrorism.” It is a major political party taking a principled stance against a massive change forced down America’s throat on a slender majority by a party that has lusted after control of the nation’s health care system for a century. Yes, Congress “passed the law to find out what’s in it.” But Americans have now had a long, hard look at its provisions, find they just don’t like it — and haven’t for some time.
According to an August poll by Survey Sampling, 77 percent want the law’s individual mandate delayed or scrapped entirely. Even a recent CNN poll finds 54 percent of people want no part of Obamacare. “Real Clear Politics” indicates an average of all polls at 38.7 percent in favor, 52.2 percent opposed. The only outlier is a CNBC poll, showing a slim margin in favor of the law. Republicans are, for the most part, following the sentiments of the nation on this one. Democrats aren’t, and no amount of fit-pitching changes that.
Democrats have persistently tried to tag their Republican colleagues as the party who won’t compromise. But the truth was given away last week by Colorado’s very own Diana DeGette, who complained that Republicans proposed “the one thing we can’t compromise on.” Note to the First CD’s representative: if your counterparts agree to every demand but one, and that single refusal causes gridlock — someone’s being “uncompromising” all right. It just isn’t them.
There are a few things to keep in mind about a government shutdown. First, the historical precedent may frighten party leaders — but it shouldn’t, if they are thinking of the country’s and the party’s welfare rather than their own. Following the last government shutdown Republican leadership was lambasted by the usual suspects but the party prospered in the following by-election, and many of the principles they embraced were adopted by then-President Clinton. So there may be more reason for optimism than the press and Nancy Pelosi want us to think.
Second, 30 years of gerrymandering of Congressional districts have led to a great majority of philosophically homogeneous “safe” seats, whose voters reliably support the incumbent. Both parties are to blame for this, and it has pernicious effects. Democrats may think revulsion at a government shutdown will cost Republicans control of the House but voters who elected those “extreme” candidates may very well react with “How long can we keep it closed?”
Finally, “business as usual” government may be over for awhile. Instead, we may see more willingness by politicians to take principled stands — an unfamiliar and troubling proposition in “go-along-to-get-along” Washington, D.C..
But one perhaps long overdue.
Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County.