As the first week of the government shutdown came to a close on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, the only aspect President Barack Obama, the Democrats and Republicans agree on is that the government shutdown needs to end and that the debt ceiling needs to be raised before the Oct. 17, 2013 deadline. On Saturday afternoon Oct. 5, Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives agreed to pass a bill giving back pay to all furloughed federal government workers after the shutdown ends. The House voted unanimously 407-0 in favor of the bill, the "Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act" meant to ease the ramifications of the shutdown.
The House met on Saturday to pass the non-binding resolution granting back-pay; additionally they passed another bill with 406 votes in favor and one Democratic dissenter, allowing military chaplains to continue working throughout the shutdown. These non-binding resolutions, expedited bills need a two-third majority to pass, therefore Republicans could not solely rely on their majority, and they require Democratic support as well. Both these bills had been endorsed by the President, however, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV called it a "paid vacation." Also on Saturday, Oct. 5, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recalled 350,000 furloughed workers in the department to return to work.
The government has been partially shutdown since the new fiscal year began on Oct. 1. There has been little progress to end the first government shutdown in 17 years with both the Democrats and Republicans spending most their time blaming each other. The debt ceiling will also reach its limit on Oct. 17, without passing a bill to raise the debt ceiling limit the U.S. will default on its loans.
At the core of the conflict is the Democratic Senate and President Obama wanting a "clean bill", a stop-gap spending bill referred to as a Continuing Resolution (CR) without out any provisions attached, while the Republican controlled House of Representatives has been insisting on some provisions to delay aspects of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, the new healthcare law which started to formally be implemented with the health insurance marketplace being opened to individuals and families to start enrolling on Oct. 1, 2013.
Approximately 800,000 federal employees are furloughed as a result of the shutdown out of 2 million, and it also affects all aspects of the government at a time when the fragile economy is just starting to recover.
Besides an ongoing rhetorical blame game, neither side has been actively doing much to end the shutdown. Each time the Republican House has suggested any bill this past week, whether it be the three spending bills with provisions passed prior to the shutdown, the eight partial spending bills after it began or the conference committee invitation to negotiate, the Democrats in the House and Senate have shot them down.
Only meaningful negotiations could end the crisis quickly, something Obama will not do, apart from meeting with the four Congressional majority and minority leaders for 90-minutes on Wednesday, Oct. 2 that did result in any advances or resolve the problem, he maintains an unwillingness to compromise or negotiate, preferring a public relations campaign of speeches, and appearances meant to convince the American public that the shutdown is entirely the Republicans fault.
The President made two official speeches on the shutdown this week. All of which often sounded repetitive with the same essential message and phrases used each time; blaming the Republicans entirely for the shutdown. This strategy is part of his campaign to ensure that he nor do the Congressional Democrats take the blame for the week old crisis.
On Thursday, Oct. 3 Obama spoke at the M. Luis Construction Company in Rockville, Maryland, calling the shutdown a "Reckless Republican Shutdown" and placed blame for the entire crisis on the Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH.
This is the first time he blamed the speaker, alienating the head of the Republican controlled House, usually the President chose to blame a faction of the House Republicans, those affiliated with the Tea Party, instead of casting blame on an entire party that he still needs in order to govern and pass any legislation. Obama stated in his remarks; "Speaker John Boehner won't even let the bill get a yes-or-no vote, because he doesn't want to anger the extremists in his party. That's all. That's what this whole thing is about. My simple message today is: Call a vote. Call a vote!"
He also reiterated his position that he would not negotiate on the spending bill or raising the debt ceiling limit, asserting; "There will be no negotiations over this. The American people are not pawns in some political game. You don't get to demand some ransom in exchange for keeping the government running. You get to demand ransom in exchange for keeping the economy running."
The President gave his initial reaction to shutdown on Tuesday, Oct. 1 in a White House Rose Garden speech on both the shutdown and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Friday he took his PR campaign directly to the public making, making a surprise visit to a local Washington eatery Taylor's Gourmet Deli, "a sandwich shop" to pick up lunch. He was accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, and gave some remarks on the government shutdown, at the same time as they both bought sandwiches, drinks and a cookie desert.
The President casually told the crowd at the restaurant; "Right now, the House of Representatives has the opportunity to do the exact same thing. This shutdown could be over today. ...If Speaker Boehner would simply allow that vote to take place, we can end this shutdown and a whole bunch of families, not just here in Washington, but all across the country, will have the certainty that a paycheck will be coming."
He continued with tough words citing why refuses to negotiate with the Republicans; "I am happy to have negotiations with the Republicans and Speaker Boehner on a whole range of issues, but we can't do it with a gun held to the head of the American people." It was the kind of outing that brings down the wall between the President and the public and gives him that regular guy appearance, making it hard for the public to blame him.
The evening before Thursday, Oct 3, the President announced that he would cancel the remainder of his Asia trip. The President was still suppose to attend the "Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali, Indonesia, and the East Asia Summit in Darussalam, Brunei," Secretary of State John Kerry is filling in for him now. On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the President had already cancelled one leg of his trip, postponing his visit to Malaysia and the Philippines.
The Speaker of the House John Boehner has also spoken publicly this week about the shutdown; in a Friday, Oct. 4 press conference he expressed anger at the President for a Wall Street article, and a particular quote. A Senior Obama administration official who remained unnamed in the article implied the shutdown is a game, saying; "'We are winning… It doesn't really matter to us' how long the shutdown lasts 'because what matters is the end result.'" Boehner fired back in his press conference about the insinuation, stating; "This isn't some damn game… The American people don't want their government shut down and neither do I."
Speaker Boehner and the Republicans have been requesting just that the President and Democrats in Congress, especially the Senate negotiate and discuss the matter with them, especially, Republican grievances over the Affordable Care Act. Boehner stated; "All we're asking for is to sit down and have a discussion and to bring fairness -- reopen the government and bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare. It's as simple as that. But it all has to begin with a simple discussion." Obama pushed through his health care law without any Republican support or input, while the nation is not a one party country so it is reasonable that at one point, they get the opportunity to represent their constituents, especially now that the law is being implemented.
There have been a total of 17 prior government shutdowns in American history between the 1970s and 1990s with the December-January, 1995-1996 shutdown being the longest clocking in at 21 days. Then as now a Democratic President Bill Clinton was in a fierce ideological battle with a Republican House of Representatives.
Comments like the one in the Wall Street Journal and public relations stunts like President Obama's impromptu sandwich shop visit and of course Obama's continued speeches, and refusal to negotiate make it appear that it is a game for Democrats, and a campaign tactic aimed at ensuring Americans entirely blame Republicans for the shutdown, with hopes of recapturing the House next year in the midterm elections.
According to the polls their strategy is working. A CBS Poll finds that 44 percent of Americans blame the Republican House, while 35 percent cast their blame on the President. Even though the blame is a bit more even for the whole shutdown, an overwhelming majority of 72 percent of Americans are against shutting down the government for differences over the health care law, with only 25 percent approving.
However, one has to wonder if the Democrats really find a government shutdown and the American public and the economy's suffering is worth it in order to win a majority in the House, only time will tell.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.