The talking-points memo had clearly gone out to Republican members of Congress who came before TV news cameras during this week’s late-night, last-ditch budget maneuvers.
As the federal government careened toward the partial shutdown that began Tuesday morning, GOP representatives one after the other repeated the same two arguments: that their party’s stop-Obamacare-at-any-cost budget strategy reflects the “will of the people,” and that Democrats and President Obama simply aren’t willing to compromise.
The numbers tell a different, more reality-based story, which is why the natural tendency to blame both sides for the budget debacle should be checked as the shutdown and its potentially harmful economic consequences play out. “This is not a ‘pox on both your houses’ moment,” said Michael Linden, a federal budget expert with the Center for American Progress.
In one of the most recent surveys about the shutdown, the respected Morning Consult National Healthcare Tracking Poll found that just 33 percent of voters questioned from Sept. 25-28 agreed that lawmakers should delay, defund or repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Numbers in the short-term government funding legislation — the measure that if passed, would have kept the government operating for the next several months — also undercut Republican claims that the Democratic-controlled Senate won’t budge. That measure, on closer examination, reveals a key point too often missing in the budget standoff:
Democrats already have compromised by keeping sequester cuts in place, something many in the party vehemently oppose, until a longer-term agreement can be hammered out. These blunt spending reductions were put in place during the 2011 debt ceiling deal and make more than $1 trillion in cuts to defense and domestic spending over the next decade. The cuts will slow deficit spending, but many economists say they’ll also hinder economic growth.
“Democrats in both chambers of Congress agreed to adopt the lower spending levels that the Republicans asked for as a way to avoid a shutdown. Republicans refused to take yes for an answer,” Linden said.
Continuing the sequester should be a major policy victory for the GOP, especially for budget hawks who won at the polls by promising to cut spending in Washington. But now Republicans in the House want more and have tied government operations — and, potentially, the upcoming vote to raise the debt ceiling — to undercutting the 2010 Affordable Care Act. In doing so, the party set yet another high-water mark in this era of extreme political tactics.
It would be one thing if House Republicans were putting only their political futures at risk. But this political equivalent to civil war will likely cause civilian casualties. The federal government is the nation’s largest employer, and more than 800,000 employees are expected to be furloughed across the nation. Their absent paychecks will have economic ripples that extend far beyond their immediate families, with businesses in their communities taking a quick hit.
Their absence at work will potentially delay loan processing for small businesses and some consumers seeking home mortgages. Medical research dollars may slow, a threat to economic and patient health. Jittery markets could undermine business and consumer confidence, weakening an already fragile economic recovery.
That Republicans are willing to risk all of this for what Obama correctly called an “ideological crusade” on Tuesday speaks volumes about their priorities and judgment.
It’s also worth noting that the shutdown won’t achieve what they seek: derailing the Affordable Care Act. Its funding is largely insulated from the appropriations process, and its rollout continued Tuesday as the new health exchanges came online.
The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. It was passed legitimately in 2010, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 and affirmed by American voters in the last presidential election. By resorting to extreme measures to eliminate the law, Republicans are effectively trying to nullify the 2012 election to impose a minority view.
If they succeed, this could become standard operating procedure for future irresponsible politicians. Republicans ought to be wary of having the same tactics deployed against them someday.
In the meantime, voters and one of the Republicans’ key constituencies — big business — need to loudly say “enough.” The antidote to the nation’s economic woes is good governance, not more gamesmanship.