What happens when the federal government’s new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1 without a budget being approved?
The normal and routine response has been for Congress to pass a continuing resolution that maintains government funding at current levels until a new budget is passed. These clean resolutions usually get bipartisan support. Indeed, there were no Democratic objections to such resolutions when George W. Bush was president.
But that isn’t the case with the right wing extremist Republicans who control the U.S. House. After the Democratic controlled Senate passed a clean continuing resolution on a 54-46 party line vote, House Republicans have refused to pass any continuing resolution unless the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is either delayed for a year or defunded. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) refuses to even allow an up-or-down vote on a clean continuing resolution.
The federal government is now in a partial shutdown, with 800,000 employees furloughed. National parks are closed and many vital government services are curtailed, with about a third of Michigan’s federal funding affected.
Things could get even worse when the federal government reaches its debt limit next week. Debt ceiling increases were routine during the Bush administration, again being passed with bipartisan support, but Republicans now use the issue to threaten to drive the country over a fiscal cliff unless President Barack Obama caves to their hostage-taking. A default would severely damage an economy that is still recovering from the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. As a last resort, Obama may have to avoid default by executive action.
The shutdown and possible default if the debt ceiling isn’t raised are motivated by spite. The Affordable Care Act is a done deal. Congress passed the law, Obama signed it into law, the Supreme Court upheld it, and Obama was re-elected in 2012 by a comfortable margin. The health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, which began operating Oct. 1, have not been affected by the shutdown. They are not only already up and running, but the public response to them has far exceeded expectations.
The Republicans oppose health care reform because it limits the profits and excessive top executive pay of the insurance companies who bought them with the legalized bribery of campaign contributions. They are irresponsible and reckless sore losers, with less maturity than five-year-olds. Lying Tea Party extremists, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), set the tone, and now want to screw more than 30 million Americans out of health care coverage, while continuing to maintain insurance company abuses.
Cruz, Boehner and their fellow Republicans claim that the Affordable Care Act will be a train wreck. If they really believe that will happen, then they should let it take effect, using hoped-for failure as an issue in 2014. But in fact, they are afraid the Affordable Care Act will prove successful and popular, resulting in a 2014 backlash against them.
When terrorists engage in hostage taking, they usually paint themselves into a corner. So it is with the Republicans. Their latest ploy is to pass piecemeal budget bills for such popular and politically sensitive agencies and programs as the National Institutes of Health, disaster relief and food aid for the poor. It is designed to deny funding for health care reform by omitting anything for the Affordable Care Act, and the Democrats are right to reject it.
In their fanaticism, the Republicans stupidly ignore the lessons of the previous shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 under the leadership of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA). Most Americans blamed the Republicans for the shutdown, government funding was eventually restored, Bill Clinton was re-elected president in 1996, the Republicans lost House seats in the 1998 midterm elections, and Gingrich was dumped as speaker.
History is already starting to repeat itself, with polls finding that most Americans again blame the Republicans for the shutdown. Polls are also finding that the Republicans are in grave danger of losing control of the House in 2014. MoveOn.org recently hired Public Policy Polling to run polls in 24 Republican-held congressional districts, finding that in 20 districts a Democrat would likely beat the incumbent Republican if the election were held today, more than enough to flip control.
One of these districts is the 7th District of Michigan, which includes Jackson, Monroe and some Lansing suburbs. With 46 percent of voters disapproving the job performance of Tea Party Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton), he would lose to his Democratic challenger, former state Rep. Pam Byrnes (D-Chelsea) by a 51-42 percent margin.
I don’t know how long this idiocy will go on, but at some point a continuing resolution must be passed and the debt ceiling raised in order for the government to function properly. It is hard to make predictions when the Republicans behave so irrationally, but I expect health care reform implementation to continue uninterrupted. I also expect the Democrats to stand their ground, as they must when facing such reprehensible behavior.
We should know that the longer the shutdown goes on, the more damage to the economy and to the Republicans. Because they know the Republicans are stupidly screwing themselves, I don’t see the Democrats caving. Instead, House Democrats are circulating a discharge petition that would send a clean funding bill, currently buried in committee, to a floor vote to reopen the government if signed by a majority of 218 representatives.
With all 200 Democrats on board, only 18 Republicans are needed to act like adults and sign on in a revolt against the revolting Tea Party and Boehner. While 22 House Republicans are on the record as willing to vote for a clean continuing resolution, it takes some courage here, for a vindictive Tea Party would probably run right wing extremist primary challengers against them. I don’t know if enough of these relative moderates have the guts to stand up to the bullying wackos.