Here’s a quick recap of the looming federal government shutdown and why it’s unique.
At midnight Monday, Oct. 1, non-essential parts of the U.S. government will be shut down. Of the nation’s two million federal workers, about 40 percent (800,000) will be furloughed for an unknown amount of time. About 1.4 million active duty military personnel will remain on the job, but most civilians working in the Defense Department face furloughs.
Non-essential government services — like the National Park Service, wildlife refuges, federal museums and monuments — will temporarily shut their doors. When this happened in 1995-96, 9 million visitors were turned away. There will also be delays in processing gun permits, some court cases, the approval of mortgage applications and passport and visa applications — nothing essential, just inconvenient for those seeking the services.
How long is the shutdown likely to last? The last shutdown was in 1995-96, when the government shutdown twice — between Nov. 13-19, and for 21 days between Dec. 15 and Jan 6. Congressional Republicans led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich faced off against President Bill Clinton, a confrontation that — all reports now show — hurt Republicans, which controlled the House and the Senate, more than Clinton.
Since 1976, there have been 17 government shutdowns.
What makes this shutdown unique is that ultra-conservatives within the Republican Party are forcing it for one reason: to derail President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act, which goes into effect Oct. 1. The government shutdown will not affect implementation of the act. It is a bill previously passed by a majority in Congress and is the law of the land.
Republicans have tried to kill the law in 41 previous attempts since its passage in 2010. The conservative rhetoric — repeated by conservative talk radio and conservative broadcasts — is that the act will ruin America and Republicans are acting to save the country from this impending disaster.
The Republican strategy is risky for two reasons: first, the disruption could have a negative effect on the economic recovery, which has finally turned the corner, with Republicans to blame. Second, the health care law may prove to be popular a few years down the road in the same vein as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
The latter prospect is more likely than Republicans imagine. In the 36 states in which the federal government will run health care exchanges, millions of previously uninsured Americans will be able to sign up for affordable health care subsidized by the government and based on a person’s income.
According to reports on proposed prices, released just last week, a family of four with an income between $23,550 and $31,400, will pay only 2 percent of that income for coverage, while a family of four with income between $70,650 and $94,200, will pay 9.5 percent. Because of federal subsidies, estimates say more than half of uninsured Americans may pay less than $100 a month per person for coverage.
The risk of disrupting a recovering economy plays into a double-jeopardy as the nation approaches another fiscal cliff on Oct. 17, when Congress and the president will have to agree to raise the debt limit to pay the nation’s bills — bills that the country has already spent, the bulk of which is on defense and entitlement programs. Economists argue that while a short-term government shutdown will not likely have a long-lasting effect on the economy, failing to raise the debt limit could be catastrophic.
If the economy takes a short dive — and House Republicans cave, as even Republicans leaders suggest they will — and if the health care bill is perceived favorably a year or two from now, there will be tough sledding for Republicans in 2014 and again in 2016 if Obamacare proves even moderately successful.
What’s most shocking about these political theatrics is that the Tea Party Republicans who are leading the charge don’t seem to have a game plan for tomorrow. The current fight, long-time Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told the Washington Post, “is about taking a legislative proposal, the signature issue of the president, and asking him to walk away from it. I just don’t see that as being the best tactic.”
“I think it’s going to be tough for them (House Republicans),” added Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “They’re having such difficulty pulling things together. I don’t know that I have a clear vision how we move through this. And I think the debt ceiling is maybe even more murky.”
That those are two helpful voices from colleagues in the Republican Senate is not reassuring.
Worse, however, is that Tea Party Republicans in the House apparently haven’t thought it through. When asked what would happen if the Senate rejected their latest offer, Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga, one of the party’s more conservative members, replied: “It comes back to us, I guess. We really didn’t talk about exactly what the plan would be then.”
Gingrich, at least, had a plan.
Angelo S. Lynn