The partial shutdown of the federal government due to the obsession of a portion of the U.S. House’s Republican caucus to derail the Affordable Care Act has cemented our embarrassment in Congress. Here are seven reasons why you should be embarrassed, too.
— A minority of one party has hijacked the legislative process and sent the message to the world that the U.S. government can’t function. Normally, negotiations happen as a piece of legislation is in the process of becoming law. Obamacare was passed by Congress and signed by the president, and it survived a challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet a faction of Republicans in the House are attempting to tie the law’s rollout to a bill that’s not directly related. The power grab is desperate and won’t work because it would set a precedent. Using a shutdown to negotiate a budget is unacceptable.
— The shutdown doesn’t even accomplish the objective of Obamacare opponents: It won’t stop the rollout of the health care law. Whether the government is shut down or not, Oct. 1 is still the first day for millions of Americans without health insurance to enroll in plans available through the online marketplaces the federal health care reform law created. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., an Obamacare opponent, perhaps stated it best: “We’re not going to repeal Obamacare, OK? That’s it. We may do this for a day. We may do it for a week. We may do it for a month. It’s going to end up the same way.”
— A shutdown hinges on Republicans’ objections to Obamacare, but Obamacare was originally an idea from conservatives, and a smaller version was first signed into law by a Republican standard bearer: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The Heritage Foundation’s Consumer Choice Health Plan released in 1992 called for requiring all households to purchase basic insurance unless they were covered by governmental health programs. It also called for reforming the insurance market to make a basic package available and affordable to all.
— A government shutdown doesn’t save money. The Office of Management and Budget estimated the last shutdown in 1995-1996, which lasted 27 days, cost $1.4 billion — more than $2 billion in today’s dollars — due to, in part, uncollected taxes and fines, and back pay to furloughed workers. A shutdown misdirects important government resources; it means taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth. In the weeks leading up to the shutdown, federal agencies had to spend their time making shutdown plans rather than carrying out their normal business.
— A shutdown hurts the struggling economy and enterprises that pro-business Republicans supposedly want to “protect” from Obamacare. Financial markets never like uncertainty, but this is a particularly bad time for it as the economy recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression; it’s weaker than at the time of the last government shutdown. Plus, hundreds of thousands of federal employees won’t be receiving paychecks, depriving them of income they would spend, generating economic activity. A two-week shutdown could shave 0.3 percentage points off the U.S.’s fourth-quarter economic growth rate, according to the firm Macroeconomic Advisers LLC. A three- to four-week government closure could cut growth by 1.4 percentage points from a projected 2.5 percent annualized growth rate for the fourth quarter, according to Moody’s Analytics.
— Letting the government shut down is a dereliction of duty and, at its core, an extraordinary failure of leadership. The irony is that it’s unlikely a majority of the House actually wanted to tie a shutdown to Obamacare. Speaker John Boehner should bring the Senate’s clean continuing resolution to the floor of the House for a straight vote rather than give in to the tea party Republicans in his caucus. Those members “live in these narrow echo chambers,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told CNN. “They listen to themselves and their tea party friends. That keeps them going, forgetting that the rest of the country thinks we’re crazy.”
— Obamacare is at the center of the shutdown, but imagine what problems Congress is not addressing when it wastes its time risking the credibility of the government over some members’ objections to a policy that remains law. At last count, the House had voted 42 times to repeal or defund Obamacare. There are better ways for chamber members to spend their time: Perhaps they could come up with ways the law could work better and make high-quality health insurance more affordable to the millions of Americans who don’t have it. Here’s a novel idea: Perhaps they could spend their time actually doing the jobs they were elected to do as outlined by the U.S. Constitution.