Who really shut down the government and why?
Republicans were warned not to attempt to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but they went ahead anyway. That is, people like Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer warned them that the Democrats would do exactly what they did in 1995, which was to shut down the government and blame it on the Republican s. So now we are into the second week of the shutdown.
Of course, Democrats employ what was long ago identified as the Washington Monument Strategy, viz., closing down those functions of government which the public most supports and leaving untouched programs causing the biggest strain on the nation’s financial resources. To illustrate, I was in Oregon last week and, with an old friend who happens to be a bird watcher, attempted to enter federal lands, but we were blocked.
Let us be clear on how this impasse developed. Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives in 2010, largely because of public outrage against the ACA, popularly known as ObamaCare, in a remarkable switch of 65 seats. They retained their majority in the 2012 elections, so they remain committed to the law’s repeal. The current strategy at first was to defund the trillion- dollars-plus blunderbuss while funding everything else in the federal government.
Not surprisingly, President Obama and Senate Democrats were totally opposed to any limits on or changes to the healthcare law, so the Senate promptly rejected the House measure while the President made it clear that he would veto it in the unlikely event the Senate passed it.
So Republicans proposed that the individual mandate to buy health insurance be delayed, pointing to the President’s unilateral (and unconstitutional) delay of the mandate for businesses with 50 full-time employees a few weeks ago. But that too was unacceptable.
Next, Republicans proposed that members of Congress not be permitted to exempt themselves from ObamaCare (Congress has a long history of this, by the way) and, in a more popular move, proposed that the tax on medical devices be repealed, possibly getting the votes of some Democrats in both houses.
But all Republican attempts at compromise were rejected by Senate majority leader Harry Reid and President Obama. They would rather that millions of Americans be inconvenienced than agree to any changes that they don’t favor, ignoring the fact that public opinion polls consistently reveal that a solid majority of Americans are opposed to the ACA.
Low-information voters are outraged that “the politicians,” “the parties” and Congress (pick your villain) cannot resolve this impasse, a situation aided and abetted by the major media which are in the Democrat camp. The Associated Press, for example, used to be a model of impartiality, but its writers regularly cast aspersions on Republicans in general and Tea Party members in particular as the villains of the piece.
I listened to public radio on my long recent drives in which commentators acknowledged the possibility that there might be two sides to this issue, but invariably wound up lamenting that the country is being “held hostage” by people with paranoid delusions, if not racist passions, opposing ObamaCare for no other reason than that the President backing it is black.
Samuel Johnson, an English literary giant in the eighteenth century, famously wrote that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” If he were writing today, he might say that charging opponents with racism is the last (or is it the first?) refuge of a scoundrel.
Meanwhile, what is to be done? As long as the President shows less willingness to negotiate with his fellow citizens in the Republican Party than with governments in Iran, Syria and Russia, nothing will be done. According to some reports, Democrats were crowing that they were “winning” the contest for public opinion during the government shutdown which they caused.
The Republicans know that they are playing a weak hand, controlling only one elective branch while the Democrats control two. Not surprisingly, they have shown more willingness to compromise than the Democrats. But the latter’s public support cannot last much longer, when more people grasp the fact that Democrats, not the Republicans, are holding up a resolution.
By contrast, John Kitzhaber, the Democrat governor of Oregon, prepared for months to deal with the impending bankruptcy of the public employees’ retirement fund and actually worked out a “grand bargain” in the state legislature in only two days. One hopes his example will inspire our President to do likewise.
Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of “Take Journalism Seriously: ‘Objectivity’ as a Partisan Cause” (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at email@example.com