The Republican government shutdown - or, more accurately, the House of Representatives government shutdown - is about one thing, and one thing only: The Affordable Care Act, nicknamed "Obamacare." It's not about that so-called Republican "fiscal conservatism" (where they pretend they're all staunch penny-watchers), it's not about the federal deficit (which, since President Obama was elected, they've pretended to care about, even though under President Bush Republicans spent money like drunken sailors), and it's not about reasonable differences in federal spending. It's about ideological and completely irrational opposition by Republicans to Obamacare, which will provide affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. And, contrary to popular belief, this isn't a case of Democrats being unwilling to compromise on the budget; in fact, Democrats have already compromised, accepting the Republicans' lower spending numbers of $986 billion, instead of the just over $1 trillion the Democrats wanted. As one Democratic Senator noted, "They’ve taken the government hostage . . . It’s not compromise; it’s extortion.” Republicans have the majority in the House, Democrats have the majority in the Senate, and, of course, we have a Democratic president. Given that, there's no way Republicans - having lost the last two elections in a landslide, and only having a majority in one chamber, the House - can get the votes to repeal the law known as Obamacare. This shutdown is, plain and simple, about Republicans trying to repeal a law they have no ability to repeal through normal channels by holding the entire U.S. economy hostage. Democrats are hanging tough, correctly refusing to negotiate on what are non-negotiable items. You can read more about the mechanics of the shutdown here.
The House of Representatives is responsible for passing spending bills to fund the government (although the Senate can amend them), and so, around September 20th, they merrily put forth a measure to do just that - with the proviso, however, that there would be no money to fund Obamacare (you can read more about the shutdown timeline here). Republicans seem to have forgotten a pesky little detail in all of this: The Obamacare ship has sailed - Obamacare is a law, not a bill, past the point of negotiation, past the point where the political football is tossed around to find a middle ground to pass it. Obamacare was passed by Congress, signed by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court, resisted 42 Republican repeal attempts, and exists, as we speak, as the law of the land. However, Republicans in the House decided that laws don't matter, and as a condition to passing a spending bill to fund the government, they decided on an end-run, refusing to allow money to fund Obamacare under threat of a government shutdown. Barring that - an impossibility when the Senate (run by Democrats) would have to agree, and the President would have to sign off on defunding his own signature law - the House put forth a "compromise," that the rollout of Obamacare (which launched on October 1st) would be delayed by a year and the medical device tax (which helps fund the program) would be dumped. Dems said, no way, House Republicans threw their collective tantrum, and here we are.
House Republicans, led by a very crazy teabagger, Republican Ted Cruz, along with his lapdog, Republican Mike Lee, and propped up by House Speaker (leader) John Boehner, refuse to put forward a continuing resolution (CR) (which is sort of a stop-gap measure to fund the government when a formal funding bill has not been passed by Congress) that's "clean" - with no "Obamacare" strings attached. At this point, in order for the government to fully re-open, House Speaker John Boehner would have to put the "clean" CR to a floor vote, which he refuses to do, captive as he is by the little group of about 30 teabaggers in the House who are making all manner of political threats to derail his leadership if he does.
The government shutdown doesn't mean that nothing runs; what it means is that departments deemed "non-essential" (yes, a fairly hurtful term) are not up and running. Consequently, employees in those departments are furloughed, sent home without pay. The "essential" services include military pay, veteran benefits, the postal service, Social Security, anything to do with national security, air traffic control, emergency medical care, border patrol, federal prisons, most law enforcement, emergency and disaster assistance, overseeing the banking system, operating the power grid, and guarding federal property. Of course, Congresspeople - specifically, those in the House who have used what amounts to terrorism to shut down the government - really have no skin in the shutdown game; they'll continue to get paid.
Now to the list of "non-essential" services the government provides. According to the Washington Post, this list is much longer: "The National Institutes of Health will stop accepting new patients for clinical research and stop answering hotline calls about medical questions . . . the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will stop its seasonal flu program and have a significantly reduced capacity to respond to outbreak investigations . . . The Department of Housing and Urban Development will not be able to provide local housing authorities with additional money for housing vouchers . . . the National Park Service will close more than 400 national parks and museums . . . the Environmental Protection Agency will close down almost entirely during a shutdown . . . the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which oversees the vast U.S. derivatives market, will largely shut down . . . the Social Security Administration will retain enough staff to make sure the checks keep going out . . . the VA hospitals will remain open. But many services will be disrupted. The Veterans Benefits Administration will be unable to process education and rehabilitation benefits . . . if the shutdown lasts for more than two or three weeks, the Department of Veterans Affairs has said that it may not have enough money to pay disability claims and pension payments. That could affect some 3.6 million veterans . . . The Department of Agriculture will cut off support for the Women, Infants and Children [WIC] program, which helps pregnant women and new moms buy healthy food and provides nutritional information and health care referrals. The program reaches some 9 million Americans . . . emergency funds may run out by the end of October." (Emphasis added.) There are other services that will be curtailed or suspended, including immigration and some parts of law enforcement.
The end game of this shutdown is simple: House Speaker John Boehner has to bring a "clean" (without Obamacare strings) CR to the House floor for a vote. 218 votes are needed to pass this CR in the House. With 200 Democrats, and enough Republicans now willing to sign on to stop this train wreck, they could reach the 218 votes needed to pass the CR, which would fund the government at spending levels previously agreed on between the Senate and the House. All the House has to do is quit the nonsense over Obamacare, which will never be defunded while President Obama is in office, and pass a plain old spending bill without ridiculous conditions attached. Once the House passes it, the Senate will quickly pass it and the President will immediately sign it. Done, and done.
It's all in the hands of John Boehner, who is being led by the nose by the most extreme Tea Party Republicans in the House. The Democrats are not uncompromising and, as noted above, have already compromised on the money; President Obama and Senate leader Harry Reid simply refuse to be blackmailed into giving up Obamacare in exchange for the House releasing its hold on the money to fund our government. The minority (tea party) of a minority party (Republicans) is right now holding up the running of the government, simply because they want something they can't have.
There's a mechanism for repealing laws: Win elections. If Republicans somehow control both the House and the Senate, and if there's a Republican president, well, maybe they'll get the votes to repeal Obamacare (presuming, of course, that the public hasn't embraced it by then, and repealing it would be political disaster). This shutdown is by, of, and for Republicans. Don't let anyone tell you different.