With the government shutdown already in its second day President Barack Obama finally relented on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013 and met with Congressional leaders at the White House in effort to end the crisis. Obama has taken a hands-off approach in averting shutdown and except for one phone call minutes before the midnight Oct. 1 deadline, he has not spoken to Congressional leaders, only actively urging Congress to pass a spending bill through public speeches. 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.
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 will also affect all aspects of the government at a time when the fragile economy is just starting to recover.
The leaders met with the President for 90-minutes in a fruitless meeting that did not take either side any closer to ending the shutdown. The meeting was only for the four leaders; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's, D-Calif.
Speaking to the press after the meeting, both House and Senate leaders blamed each other, stating the other was in the wrong. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH announced; "They will not negotiate. We had a nice conversation, a light conversation, but at some point we've got to allow the process the Congress gave us to work out." While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV. stated; "This has never happened before, for a political party to be will willing to take the country to the brink of financial disaster. We're through playing these little games."
Earlier in the day, President Obama had an interview with CNBC about the shutdown, were he admitted "we are in trouble." The President also stated he has no intention to negotiate on the budget with the Republicans until they pass a clean stop-gap bill, and agree to raise the debt ceiling also without conditions. Obama clarified his position which he will not budge on; "Until we get that done, until we make sure that Congress allows Treasury to pay for things that Congress itself already authorized, we are not going to engage in a series of negotiations."
The President again took the moral high ground as he has throughout this crisis, all the while blaming the shutdown entirely on the Republicans. Obama stated; "During the course of my presidency, I have bent over backwards to work with the Republican party. I think I'm pretty well known for being a calm guy. Sometimes people think I'm too calm. And am I exasperated? Absolutely, I'm exasperated. Because this is entirely unnecessary…. I am exasperated with the idea that, unless I say that, 'Twenty million people, you can't have health insurance,' these folks will not reopen the government. That is irresponsible."
Obama is not willing to alienate all Republicans though, shifting the blame entirely on the Tea Party; "It is not acceptable for one faction of one part in one chamber to say, 'Either we get what we want or we'll shut down the government.' Or even worse, 'We will not allow the U.S. Treasury to pay its bills and put the United States in default for the first time in history,'"
Continuing he said; "If we get in the habit where a few folks, an extremist wing of one party, whether it's Democrat or Republican, are allowed to extort concessions based on a threat of undermin[ing] the full faith and credit of the United States, then any president who comes after me, not just me, will find themselves unable to govern effectively…. But when you have a situation in which a faction is willing potentially to default on U.S. government obligations, then we are in trouble."
The President also cancelled a portion of his upcoming Asian tour set for next week because of the shutdown; he will postpone his visit to Malaysia and the Philippines, but still intends to go Indonesia and Brunei, where he will attend the APEC summit and the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, (Asean) respectively.
Prior to meeting with Obama, Sen. Reid reached out to Speaker Boehner, phoning him and offering to conference on a long term budget resolution, but only after the Republican Congress passes the Senate's clean six-week CR.
Reid explained to the press; "My message to him was very simple: We have to stop playing these foolish games that keep coming to us from the other side of the Capitol." Responding for Boehner was one of his spokesman Michael Steel; "The entire government is shut down right now because Washington Democrats refuse to even talk about fairness for all Americans under ObamaCare. Offering to negotiate only after Democrats get everything they want is not much of an offer."
The House has been trying to ease the pain and consequences of the shutdown, voting on piecemeal bills meant to reopen and fund certain agencies and government functions; however, they keep meeting Democratic opposition. Expedited bills need a two-third majority to pass, therefore Republicans cannot solely relay on their majority, they need Democratic support as well. Even if any the piecemeal bills do pass the House both the Senate and President vowed they would not be enacted.
Senate Majority Leader Reid strongly denounced the selected funding idea; "It's just another wacky idea from the Tea Party-driven Republicans. You can tell the Tea Party Republicans still want to keep the government shutdown… This is not serious. The government is shut down and if they think they're going to nitpick us on this, it won't work. It won't work."
On the first day of the shutdown Tuesday evening, Oct. 1, 2013, the House voted on three bills; funding for essential elements of the Department of Veterans Affairs, for services to operate the District of Columbia, and funding to reopen all National Parks and Museums in DC. All the votes failed to pass, the Veterans Act, failed 264-164, with all Republicans supporting it and picking up 33 Democratic votes; the Local Funding for the District of Columbia Act failed 265-163, with all Republicans supporting it and picking up 34 Democratic votes; the Open Our Nation's Parks and Museums Act also failed 252-176, picking up only 22 Democratic votes with one Republican opposing it.
President Obama first spoke out against the shutdown after it commenced Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 1 in a Rose Garden statement, where he denounced the shutdown, calling it "the Republican shutdown" and "ordered they "reopen the government," and repeated the same messages and themes that he has throughout the crisis, but doing little else to resolve the problem.
The President began his address, declaring; "At midnight last night for the first time in 17 years, the Republicans in Congress chose to shut down the federal government. Let me be more specific: One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government shut down major parts of the government, all because they did not like one law."
Obama continued with the same resolve he has had for the past three weeks, saying; "I will not give in to reckless demands… They're shutting down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health care to many Americans. They are demanding ransom just for doing their job…. This Republican shutdown did not have to happen."
There have been a total of 17 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.
A new Quinnipiac Poll released Oct. 2 indicates opposition to the Republican tactic of using a government shutdown as leverage for getting elements of the new health care law delayed; 72 percent are against what the GOP are doing, and 22 percent in agreement, with the public clearly blaming the GOP for the shutdown, making the party vulnerable to the fall out.
This does not mean Americans support the health care law, although almost even, opposition out polls support 47 percent to 45 percent; Americans just do not support the methods to get rid of the law. Still there was a lot of traffic on the health insurance marketplaces on their first day in operation, with uninsured Americans looking for coverage.
Although most Americans are blaming the Republicans, in a large part because President Obama has been vocally doing so in almost every public speech he has given in the past three weeks, it not solely their fault. House Republicans ratcheted down their demands in each of the bills they passed, with the last bill just looking to delay the individual mandate, subsidies for Congress, the White House and their staff. After the shutdown began they tried at a minimum to get some additional essential funding available, while both the Democrats and President Obama have steadfast with their clean bill or nothing approach refusing any negotiations.
Negotiations and compromise are what averted a shutdown in 2011, and just because the President has a second term already does not mean he does not need the Republicans to continue his agenda or that rhetorically deflecting blame will let him avoid all responsibility. He is a President refusing to actively do anything to stop the shutdown; he will shoulder the blame for the ramifications in the long run.
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.