The Shutdown Rundown

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Political Commentary

By this time, many of you are tired of the political bickering and just want to get the most important things moving. The problem is, you all disagree about what that means.

The federal government shutdown, having brought about such terrifying events such as park closures and the inability to get a passport in time for a planned vacation, has sent Americans’ discontentment with their government to new highs. Not to make light of a bad situation, I recognize the shutdown is a serious problem, which will affect many innocent people.

But what got us here, who’s fault is it, and how do we get out?

The media narrative is pretty consistent: a handful of crazy right-wingers hijacked the Republican-led House and are forcing the shutdown until their demands for stripping Obamacare are met. Or maybe that’s the Democratic narrative—same difference. The point is, a lot of folks have been handed a one-sided analysis, which is a disservice to the public and a shameful indictment of the current state of journalism.

Congress standing to receive Wilson  (LOC)

REPUBLICANS PICKED THE FIGHT. The president and his supporters are fond of arguing that, because he was elected in 2012, Americans support him and particularly his healthcare law. This ignores the fact that poll after poll shows a majority opposed to the law, and that a majority of districts elected Republicans to represent them in the House, almost entirely based on opposition to Obama’s agenda. The presidential campaign was not a policy debate—they rarely are—it was a choice of trust. Swing voters simply did not trust Mitt Romney to act in their interest. And after his “47%” comments, it was clear that even if he did have good intentions, he didn’t understand the working class.

Republicans in the House, including my own rep. John Culberson, campaigned to fight against Obamacare with everything they could. Knowing that repeal attempts were futile, the strategy became one of leverage. Obama recently complained that “One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election.” This constitutional law professor should go back to his class notes, as that is precisely what the Founders intended through the well-known notion of “checks and balances.” The GOP reasoned that if it could not repeal Obamacare, it could at least negotiate cut backs. In other words, a compromise.

The GOP reasoned that if it could not repeal Obamacare, it could at least negotiate cut backs. In other words, a compromise.

Executing this strategy over the last couple of years has meant taking advantage of important bills, such as raising the debt ceiling or passing a basic federal budget resolution. The House tacks on a few favorable items, then passes it on to the Senate, where it is rejected. They go back and forth, the media freaks out, we enter 2-3 weeks of paranoia and blame, then some temporary agreement is made.

This time, they passed the deadline, and without funding appropriations the federal government ceased all non-essential operations. Republicans in the House had initially offered a budget completely defunding Obamacare. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat from Nevada, refused it. The House responded with a bill to delay certain elements—Obama himself has already delayed parts—but, once again, Reid would not let the Senate vote on it. The House shot back a bill with even less dramatic changes, and again, a refusal.

DEMOCRATS THREW THE PUNCH. Obama and Harry Reid have continually stated that they will not consider or negotiate any bill which alters Obamacare, and at the brink of a federal government shutdown, they held to that statement by refusing to negotiate or even allow a floor vote in the Senate. The two houses called one another’s bluff until the clock ran out. Still, as Republicans continue to send funding bills for particular operations, Democratic leadership in the Senate will not allow a vote, saying that this might allow Republicans to gradually fund only the things they like. For Reid, it’s an all-or-nothing strategy.

Obama and Harry Reid have continually stated that they will not consider or negotiate any bill which alters Obamacare, and at the brink of a federal government shutdown, they held to that statement…for Reid, it’s an all-or-nothing strategy.

The president has been absurdly absent. Instead of leading and meeting, he has taken to television interviews and speeches to attack Republicans. Obama knows that his greatest strength as a candidate and then president has always been getting the media and public sentiment behind him by delivering his masterful rhetoric straight to them. His leadership style, if it can be called that, seems to follow a game plan: get the public to sympathize with your moral crusade, then establish your political opponents as the grand enemy of the public. That may work well on the campaign trail, and goodness knows that’s the way of politics, but presidential leadership ought to be somewhat above that fray. By resisting the real leadership that is needed in these crises, the Obama era has been fraught with instability, anger and deep resentment.

BOTH PARTIES HAVE TO COMPROMISE. Republicans have already offered compromises, but Democrats are unwilling to budge. In contrast to much of the media, I believe the Democratic strategy is the unreasonable one. They also represent just one faction of one branch of government (to echo Obama). They should recognize that public sentiment has changed since the law was enacted. In fact, many Democrats support some of the proposals Republicans have been trying to pass, because of widespread recognition that the Affordable Care Act has major flaws. There are areas for compromise that cut back portions of the law while keeping it in place. Harry Reid is holding the ball, and getting a clean pass for it by most reporters and pundits.

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